Caretaking for Loved Ones: A Health and Medical Blog

Understanding Carotid Artery Disease

The blood vessels located at each side of your neck are known as the carotid arteries, and they are responsible for delivering blood to your brain. When these blood vessels become blocked by fatty deposits, known as plaque, you develop carotid artery disease. The plaque that builds up in your arteries consists of fibrous tissue, cholesterol and deposits of calcium.

Carotid artery disease is a serious condition that leaves you susceptible to suffering a stroke due to insufficient blood reaching your brain. Here's an overview of the causes, symptoms, diagnosis and treatment approach for this condition.

Causes And Symptoms

It's not always clear why some people develop carotid artery disease, but there are risk factors that can increase your likelihood of developing the condition. Being obese, having high blood pressure, smoking and diabetes all put pressure on your artery walls and can leave them vulnerable to damage. Additionally, having high blood-fat levels due to consuming a diet high in unhealthy fats can cause arteries to become blocked by plaque, and those with a family history of any type of artery disease are at greater risk of developing carotid artery disease than the general population.

You won't always experience symptoms in the early stages of this condition, but some common symptoms include visual disturbances, episodes of dizziness, severe headaches, and muscle numbness or weakness. You may also experience slurred speech or have periods of feeling confused or unable to grasp what someone is saying to you.  

Diagnosis And Treatment Approach

Your doctor will diagnose carotid artery disease by taking details of your symptoms and organising a vascular ultrasound. The ultrasound will show how efficiently your blood is flowing through the carotid arteries and whether it's being slowed down by a blockage at any point. Your doctor may also arrange an MRI scan of your brain to look for lesions that are indicative of having experienced a stroke.

Treatment for carotid artery disease focuses on preventing further narrowing of the arteries and improving your symptoms. Your doctor will discuss lifestyle changes you can make, such as reducing your intake of dietary fat and giving up smoking, and they will prescribe drugs to reduce your cholesterol and blood pressure. If you've already had a stroke, your doctor may recommend surgery to remove the plaque from your carotid arteries. This procedure is known as carotid endarterectomy and involves an incision being made down the length of your neck in order for the arteries to be opened up and scraped clean. The arteries are closed with stitches, and you can usually return to work or your regular activities within a few days of the procedure.

If you're experiencing any of the symptoms associated with carotid artery disease, schedule an appointment with your doctor as soon as possible.