The carotid arteries are the vessels in the neck that provide blood to the brain. You can feel their pulse under the jawline. Should these vessels become narrowed or blocked due to the buildup of plaque, you may have a condition called carotid artery disease. The plaque may slowly block or narrow the carotid artery or cause a clot to form more suddenly. Clots can lead to stroke.

Recognizing the symptoms

You may not have any symptoms of carotid artery disease. Rather, you may have symptoms of a stroke or a mini-stroke. Some of these symptoms include:

  • Blurred vision
  • Confusion
  • Loss of memory
  • Loss of sensation
  • Problems with speech and language
  • Vision loss
  • Weakness in one part of your body

Any of these symptoms is considered an emergency, so it’s important to call 911 immediately. Although a mini-stroke might only last a few minutes, it is an early warning that a major stroke may happen. More than a third of the people who have had a mini-stroke will later have a stroke.

Treatment

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
  • Eating a heart-healthy diet

In addition, your physician 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

However, it’s possible your physician might want to treat the disease with surgery or a procedure, such as:

Angioplasty and stenting: Your physician 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.

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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