Carotid Artery Disease

Learn more about the effects of blockages of blood supply to the brain.

What is Carotid Artery Disease? 

The two carotid arteries situated inside the neck supply blood to the brain. Carotid artery disease occurs when fatty deposits (plaques) that have accumulated in these arteries prevent or restrict the blood from getting through. 

Small fragments of the plaque may break off and pass along the artery into the smaller vessels inside the brain, causing a mini-stroke, known as a transient ischaemic attack (ischaema is the supply of blood to an organ).

Symptoms of Cartoid Artery Disease

When the blood vessel is obstructed, the body will try to correct it by either of the following methods:
  • Dissolving the blockage with blood components 
  • Dilating the other vessel that supplies the same region of the brain so as to prevent permanent brain cell death 
If this is successful, the patient will experience temporary symptoms including:
  • Numbness
  • Tingling sensation
  • Weakness on one side of the body
  • Loss of vision over one eye
  • Weakness on one side of the face
  • Speech difficulty
These symptoms usually disappear after 24 hours.

What Happens if Your Carotid Artery is Blocked?

If the body cannot correct itself and clear the blockage in the blood vessel, the brain cells over a large area of the brain may die — this is known as a stroke. It can cause serious disabilities and even death. 

A patient’s disability after stroke can be improved by rehabilitation exercise as the surrounding viable brain will take over part of the work of the ischaemic brain cells. Stroke is the third most common cause of death in the US and the leading cause of disability in many developed countries.

Carotid Artery Disease Diagnosis 

A painless scan can detect the presence of carotid artery disease and assess the severity of the narrowing of the artery. A duplex ultrasound scan can measure the rate of blood flow in the vessel.

If further investigation is needed, you may be given a carotid angiogram, which involves puncturing the artery over the groin region. There is a one percent chance that this procedure itself could cause a stroke so it is usually reserved for more complicated situations.

Risk Factors for Carotid Artery Disease

The following conditions raise the risk of developing plaques in the arteries (atherosclerotic disease): 
  • Diabetes
  • Hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • Hyperlipidaemia (high blood cholesterol)
  • Morbid obesity
  • Cigarette smoking

How to Treat Carotid Artery Disease

The treatment for carotid artery disease cannot reverse the stroke if it has already happened. However, chances of a a stroke may be reduced by:
  • Screening for risk factors
  • Lowering cholesterol
  • Quitting smoking
  • Losing weight 
Carotid artery disease may also be controlled though surgery to remove the plaque. In some cases, stents placed in the heart’s blood vessels help to keep them open for the blood to flow through more easily.

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