The carotid arteries are the two main arteries that take oxygen-rich blood from the heart to the brain. When fatty deposits and cholesterol build up along the artery walls, blood flow to the brain becomes restricted. In some cases blood flow can become completely blocked. Carotid artery disease is the build up of plaque within the arteries that causes blockage of blood flow to the brain.
Stroke is the third leading cause of death in the U.S. and when blood flow to the brain is restricted, a person is at a much higher risk for experiencing one. Strokes can be devastating to not only the patient, but also to family and friends. While some functions return within months or years after a stroke, many stroke survivors are left with significant permanent deficits, such as paralysis, the inability to speak, or blindness in one eye.
Unfortunately, the first sign of carotid artery disease is often a permanent stroke. Some patients, however, will experience a “mini-stroke” or transient ischemic attack (TIA) as a sign of carotid artery disease. Research has shown that immediate medical treatment gives a patient a better chance at survival which is why it is important to recognize the risk factors and symptoms of carotid artery disease.
If you experience any of these symptoms, call 911 immediately!
During a physical exam, a doctor listens to the arteries in your neck. When a significant blockage is present, abnormal flow sounds are heard. Then, if a doctor suspects carotid artery disease, there are several tests that can be done to evaluate the carotid arteries for blockage. These include:
Your healthcare provider will determine the best treatment option for you based on your medical history and the severity of your disease. A majority of patients who are diagnosed with mild to moderate carotid artery disease before symptoms develop can be treated with medication, risk factor management, and follow-up ultrasounds. For those patients who experience symptoms or are diagnosed with more severe disease, surgical options include: