Just like in your heart, blood vessels in the two carotid arteries in your neck can become narrowed by plaque buildup. Block the arteries to your heart, and you get a heart attack. Block the arteries to your brain, and you get a brain attack…aka stroke.
The trick is to catch it before something drastic occurs. Here are some tips:
Do what you can to lower the risk factors
These are actionable risk factors. You have the power to control them. They are the same as any vessel disease:
- eat a low-fat, low-sodium diet
- exercise daily
- quit smoking
- maintain a healthy level of cholesterol
- maintain a healthy blood pressure
- control diabetes
The following risk factors tend to work against us and unfortunately, we just can’t do anything about it:
- family history
Pay close attention when your body tells you things
You are the best monitor when something isn’t right. Watch for signs of a TIA (or mini-stroke). During a TIA, a small piece of plaque has broken off and traveled to the brain. This is your body’s way of giving you a stern warning – and it could last only a few seconds – so pay attention.
- Facial drooping
- Arms or legs (on one side of the body) that are weak or numb
- Slurred speech or trouble speaking sentences or words
- Vision issues in one eye
These warning signs are nothing to take lightly. In fact, we recommend that if you have any of these symptoms, call 911 and get to the emergency room. Some 1/3 of patients having a TIA will have a stroke later, often within 30 days.
Share all of this with your physician
Approximately ½ of patients who have a TIA, don’t realize they had one. Listen to those around you. They may have noticed the changes in you. Don’t hide any of these details from your physician. What may seem insignificant could actually be a clue for your doctor to do a screening. Screenings are a great way to find out what is happening.
For Carotid Artery Disease, doctors examine you for a bruit (pronounced brew-ee). This simple screen involves a stethescope to listen to the arteries in the neck. According to Dr. Raed Al-Dallow, Prairie Cardiologist, “Imagine a hose. When the water runs through it, normally you can’t hear it. However, if there’s a kink in the hose, you often hear hissing. That is what we are listening for.”
Preventing any artery disease (carotid, Coronary, peripheral) is always the goal. Be the master at controlling the risk factors you can. Be sensitive to changes in your body. Keep your doctor informed. It could save your life.