Carotid artery disease occurs when the major arteries in your neck become narrowed or blocked. These arteries, called the carotid arteries, supply your brain with blood.
You have more chances to develop carotid artery disease as u grow older. Significant number of apparently normal looking people have carotid artery disease after the age of 50
Your arteries are normally smooth on the inside, but as you grow older, a sticky substance called plaque can build up in the walls of your arteries. Plaque is made up of cholesterol, calcium, and fibrous tissue. As more plaque builds up, it makes your arteries narrow and stiff. This process is called atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries. Carotid artery disease is a serious health problem because it can cause a stroke.
Some plaque deposits are soft and are prone to cracking or forming roughened, irregular areas inside the artery. If the clot blocks the artery enough to slow or stop blood and oxygen flow to your brain, it could cause a stroke. More commonly, a piece of the plaque itself, or a clot, breaks off from the plaque deposit and travels through your bloodstream. This particle can then lodge in a smaller artery in your brain and cause a stroke by blocking the artery.
Fortunately, it is possible to prevent or slow down the disease process. Quitting smoking is the most important change you can make to avoid this disease. Other ways to prevent carotid artery disease include:
- Exercising regularly
- Eating a healthy diet
- Maintaining a healthy weight
Controlling factors that increase your chances of developing carotid artery disease, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, or high cholesterol, also help prevent the disease.
What are the symptoms?
Carotid artery disease may not cause symptoms in its early stages.
Unfortunately, the first sign of carotid artery disease could be a stroke. However, you may experience warning symptoms of a stroke called transient ischemic attacks, or TIAs. Symptoms of a TIA usually last for a few minutes to 1 hour and include:
- Feeling weakness, numbness, or a tingling sensation on one side of your body, for example, in an arm or a leg
- Unable to move an arm or a leg
- Losing vision in one eye
- Unable to speak properly
These symptoms usually go away completely within 24 hours. However, you should not ignore them. Having a TIA means that you are at serious risk of a stroke in the near future. You should report TIA symptoms to your physician immediately.
If you experience the above symptoms for longer than a few hours, or they don’t resolve within 24 hours, a stroke has probably occurred. You should contact your physician immediately.
What causes carotid artery disease?
Hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis) causes most cases of carotid artery disease. Factors that injure artery walls include smoking, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure and diabetes
In rare cases, other conditions can also cause carotid artery disease.
What tests will I need?
After the history and exam, if your physician suspects you have carotid artery disease, he or she will perform a carotid duplex ultrasound.
However, if ultrasound does not provide enough information, your physician may order one or more of the following:
- CT scan and CT Angiography (CTA): CT and CTA scans take x-ray pictures in the form of slices of the brain and the arteries in your neck. CT scans can show an area of the brain that has poor blood flow. CTA shows the arteries in the neck and head and will identify areas of arterial narrowing
How is carotid artery disease treated?
Your treatment will depend on the severity of your condition, and whether or not you are having symptoms from the carotid artery disease, as well as your general health. As a first step, your vascular surgeon may recommend medications and the lifestyle changes .
If you have any other medical conditions, make sure to follow your physician’s instructions to manage them. For example, if you have diabetes, be sure to monitor and control your blood sugar levels. If you have high blood pressure, your physician may prescribe medications to lower it. If you are smoking, you should quit smoking
You may require surgery if your carotid artery disease is severe or has progressed. Signs of severe disease include having TIA symptoms, having experienced a stroke in the past, or just having a severely narrowed carotid artery even without symptoms.
endarterectomy and can be performed using a local or general anesthetic, depending upon the particular situation.
Angioplasty and stenting
A newly developed minimally invasive procedure to treat carotid artery disease is angioplasty and stenting. Angioplasty and stenting is usually performed using a local anesthetic. Your hospital stay after angioplasty and stenting is approximately the same as with endarterectomy. Carotid angioplasty and stenting is currently controversial because conclusive, long-term results are not yet available. Nevertheless, for patients who have medical conditions that increase the risk of carotid endarterectomy, angioplasty and stenting may be a good alternative. It has been approved for symptomatic patients considered to be at high risk for the surgical endarterectomy procedure, or for patients who have agreed to participate in ongoing clinical studies designed to determine its effectiveness.
What can I do to stay healthy?
If you do not require surgery, make sure you and your immediate family members understand the warning signs of TIA. Follow your physician’s instructions for any prescribed medications.
Changing some lifestyle factors may limit the progression of your carotid artery disease. The first step smokers should take is to quit smoking. Other changes that can decrease your risk of carotid artery disease include losing weight, exercising regularly, and eating a diet low in saturated fat.
– Copyrights (c) Dr. Ilyas Sadiq