Carotid Artery Disease

Carotid artery disease occurs when plaque builds up inside the carotid arteries—the major arteries that supply blood flow to your brain.

Reduce the Risk of Stroke

You already know your brain needs a steady supply of blood to function and stay healthy. Blood carries oxygen to the nerve cells in your brain. If these nerve cells lose oxygen for even a second, they start to malfunction.

If your brain cells are deprived of oxygen for very long, they will die. The damage to your brain is serious. It can lead to long-term disability or even death. Temporary loss of blood flow to the brain can cause transient ischemic attacks (TIAs). But a prolonged loss of blood flow or a complete blockage can cause a stroke.

Warning Signs of Carotid Artery Disease

A transient ischemic attack (TIA) is a brief, mini-stroke. If you know the signs of a TIA, you know a key sign of carotid artery disease.

TIAs begin suddenly and quickly go away. They typically last anywhere from two to 15 minutes. The longer they last, the less likely they are to resolve on their own. Signs of a TIA include:

  • Dizziness or trouble walking
  • Numbness
  • Speech problems
  • Vision problems – temporary loss of vision in one eye
  • Weakness in your arms or legs

Carotid artery disease, also called carotid artery stenosis, develops slowly over time. Typically, you won’t have symptoms until a carotid artery becomes completely or nearly blocked. At that stage, you are at high risk for a stroke.

Diagnosing Carotid Artery Disease

You play a key role in diagnosing carotid artery disease. If you’ve had symptoms or think you may have had a TIA, talk to your doctor immediately.

People who are at high risk for carotid artery disease include those with:

  • A family history of atherosclerosis (plaque buildup in the arteries)
  • Coronary or peripheral artery disease
  • The sound of a bruit (a whooshing noise) when your doctor listens to your carotid artery with a stethoscope
  • Two or more of the following risk factors: high blood pressure, high cholesterol, smoking, a family history of stroke or artery disease

As part of an initial diagnosis, your doctor may recommend a carotid ultrasound. This is a fast, safe procedure. The ultrasound technician will place a probe on the side of your neck to beam sound waves at your artery. The computer uses this information to construct an image of your artery and the blood flow inside.

If the ultrasound reveals a potential problem, your doctor may request more detailed imaging such as an MRA or angiography (X-ray study using injected dies). During these tests, a technician inserts contrast material through a vein in your arm. This allows the computer to construct a more detailed image of your artery and any blockages.

Treating Carotid Artery Disease

Carotid artery disease can be treated with medication and lifestyle changes or with surgery to open the narrowed artery. With treatment, the goal is to prevent strokes.

At Aurora BayCare, we’ll personalize your treatment plan based on the severity of your condition, your overall health, and any previous history of strokes. We use the latest evidence-based approaches to deliver the care that’s best for you.

Treatment options may include:

  • Endarterectomy – surgery to remove the plaque clogging the artery
  • Angioplasty – uses a catheter to insert a tiny balloon to open the artery
  • Angioplasty with stenting – uses a mesh stent to hold the artery open
  • Medication – may include anti-clotting drugs and drugs to lower blood pressure and cholesterol

Open surgery for carotid artery disease is called carotid endarterectomy. In this procedure, the surgeon makes a small incision in your neck to expose the carotid artery. The surgeon then scrapes out the plaque and sews the artery back together.

Angioplasty is a catheter-based procedure that uses a small balloon to push your vessels wider. A stent is used, if necessary, to help keep the carotid artery open. Both procedures involve risk and should be performed by highly skilled surgeons like those at Aurora BayCare.

Experts in Carotid Arteries

We have the region’s largest neurointervention team with fellowship-trained surgeons who specialize in minimally invasive procedures like angioplasty and stenting.

Our neurosurgery specialists and subspecialists deliver outstanding care. We provide leading technical expertise combined with a commitment to clear communication. When you have a complicated condition like carotid artery disease, we want to be sure you understand your options and are equipped to make an informed decision during this critical time.

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