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Carotid Artery Disease

Vascular services are often used to diagnose and repair blood vessel conditions in your head and neck. A common blood vessel condition in your head and neck is carotid artery disease (also called carotid artery stenosis).

What is carotid artery disease?
Carotid artery disease is the narrowing of your carotid arteries, two large blood vessels that supply blood to the front part of your brain. Your thinking, speech, personality, and sensory motor functions are located in this part of your brain. The narrowing is normally caused by plaque buildup, a condition called atherosclerosis.

What are symptoms of carotid artery disease?
Some people have no symptoms of carotid artery disease until they suffer a stroke. Signs of a stroke include:

  • Sudden loss of vision, blurred vision, or difficulty seeing out of one or both eyes
  • Weakness, tingling, or numbness on one side of your face or body, or in one arm or leg
  • Sudden difficulty in walking
  • Loss of balance and coordination
  • Sudden dizziness and/or confusion
  • Difficulty speaking (aphasia) and/or swallowing (dysphagia)
  • Sudden severe headache

What causes carotid artery disease?
The narrowed carotid arteries are unable to pump an adequate amount of blood to your brain. If carotid artery disease is left untreated, you are at an increased risk for stroke, a condition in which blood flow is cut off from part of your brain.

What are the risk factors for carotid artery disease?
Some common risk factors for carotid artery disease include:

  • Smoking
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Diet high in saturated fat
  • Diabetes
  • Obesity
  • Sedentary lifestyle
  • Personal history of coronary artery disease

How is carotid artery disease diagnosed?
Since there are often no symptoms of carotid artery disease until you have a stroke, it is important to see your doctor regularly for physical exams. Your doctor may use a stethoscope to listen to the arteries in your neck, listening for evidence of blockages.

If your doctor suspects you have carotid artery disease, he or she may perform the following tests:

  • Carotid ultrasound: a non-invasive test that uses high-frequency sound waves to view carotid arteries.
  • Magnetic resonance angiography (MRA): an imaging test that uses radio waves, a magnet, and often contrast dye to create images of your carotid arteries and brain.
  • Computerized tomography angiography (CTA): an imaging test that uses X-ray, computer technology, and contrast dye to create images of your carotid arteries and brain.
  • Cerebral angiography (carotid angiogram): a minimally invasive procedure that uses X-ray and contrast dye to see your carotid arteries in real time.

How is carotid artery disease treated?
Your doctor may recommend that you make the following lifestyle changes:

  • Quit smoking
  • Keep high blood pressure and cholesterol at healthy levels
  • Manage diabetes by eating a healthy diet and taking prescribed medications
  • Eat a healthy diet low in saturated fat, trans fats, cholesterol, and salt
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Exercise regularly
  • Limit alcohol consumption

Your doctor may also recommend that you undergo a procedure to improve blood flow in your carotid arteries. Some of those procedures include:

  • Carotid endarterectomy (CEA): a procedure in which an incision is made in your neck where the blockage is located and the plaque and damaged parts of your artery are removed.
  • Carotid artery stenting (CAS): a minimally invasive procedure in which a small incision is made in your groin. A catheter is guided through this incision to the narrowed area of your carotid artery. A balloon tip is inflated to open your artery, and a stent is inserted into your artery and expanded to keep the artery open permanently.
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