Carotid Artery Disease

What is it?

Your carotid arteries are two large blood vessels in your neck. They supply your brain with blood.

If you have carotid artery disease, the arteries become narrow, usually because of atherosclerosis. This is the buildup of cholesterol and other material in an artery. If a blood clot sticks in the narrowed arteries, blood can’t reach your brain. This is one of the causes of stroke.

Symptoms

Carotid artery disease often does not cause symptoms until a stroke or TIA (mini-stroke) happens. Everyone should be aware of the symptoms.

Remember the acronym FAST

F – facial drooping
A – arm and/or leg movements that become difficult
S – slurred speech
T – time to call 911 immediately if you see any one of these symptoms

Testing

  • Carotid ultrasound
  • MRA
  • Angiogram

Treatment

Lifestyle Changes

Treatment often includes making long-lasting lifestyle changes to reduce the risk of blood clot formation, such as:

  • Quitting smoking.
  • Lowering blood pressure.
  • Lowering high blood cholesterol.
  • Lowering blood glucose (sugar) levels if you have diabetes.
  • Being physically active.
  • Follow a healthy eating plan that’s low in total fat, saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, and sodium (salt).
Medicines

Your doctor may prescribe medicines to:

  • Treat unhealthy cholesterol levels and high blood pressure
  • Prevent blood clots from forming due to low blood flow
  • Help ease leg pain that occurs when you walk or climb stairs

Surgery or Procedures

Angioplasty & Stenting

Your doctor may recommend angioplasty to restore blood flow through a narrowed or blocked artery.

During this procedure, a catheter (thin tube) with a balloon at the tip is inserted into the carotid artery. The balloon is then inflated, which pushes plaque outward against the artery wall. This widens the artery and restores blood flow.

A stent (a small mesh tube) may be placed in the artery during angioplasty. A stent helps keep the artery open after angioplasty is done. Some stents are coated with medicine to help prevent blockages in the artery.

Carotid Endarterectomy

If the arteries are very narrow, you may need an operation called a carotid endarterectomy to remove the plaque.

This procedure removes plaque buildup from an artery by inserting a small cutting device into the blocked artery. The device is used to shave or cut off plaque. The bits of plaque are removed from the body through the catheter or washed away in the bloodstream

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