Carotid Artery Disease | Symptoms, Risks, & Tests | MedStar Health

The carotid arteries are the two large blood vessels in your neck that supply the brain with blood. Carotid artery disease, also known as carotid artery stenosis, occurs when fatty deposits known as plaque cause the carotid arteries to narrow or become blocked.

When the blood supply to your brain is reduced, it can lead to a stroke. In fact, blocked carotid arteries are responsible for more than half of all strokes.

Symptoms

This condition develops slowly, and unfortunately, the first sign of it may be a stroke.

Carotid artery disease can cause a transient ischemic attack (TIA), which is a temporary shortage of blood flow to the brain and often called a “mini-stroke.” Symptoms of TIA include sudden:

  • Loss of control or movement of an arm or leg
  • Trouble speaking clearly
  • Weakness, numbness, or tingling on one side of the body
  • Vision loss in one or both eyes

Seek emergency care if you experience any of these symptoms. If you have a TIA, it may indicate you are at risk for a full-blown stroke.

Risks

Some risk factors that have been associated with the development of plaque buildup, known as atherosclerosis, that can lead to carotid artery disease include:

Tests

Angiogram (Angiography)

An angiogram is a special X-ray taken as a special dye is injected through a thin, flexible tube called a catheter to detect blockages or aneurysms in blood vessels.

Carotid duplex ultrasound

Carotid duplex ultrasound uses Doppler and traditional ultrasound to assess blood flow in the arteries that supply blood to your brain.

Treatments

In cases of mild to moderate carotid artery disease, lifestyle modifications such as quitting smoking or medications such as aspirin and anti-cholesterol drugs can prevent the disease from progressing. In more severe cases, your doctor may recommend a procedure to reopen the carotid artery in order to lower the risk of stroke.

Carotid artery disease treatments

Carotid artery disease may be slowed or treated through lifestyle changes, medication, endarterectomy, or angioplasty and stenting.

Read our Cardiovascular Performance & Outcomes Booklet

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