Carotid Artery Disease

What are the carotid arteries?

The carotid arteries branch from the aortic arch in the chest and carry oxygenated blood up the inside of the neck and to the brain. The vertebral arteries which course through the vertebrae carry blood to the back of the brain. The most common problem found in the carotid arteries is atherosclerosis, or plaque. Plaque builds up inside the artery along the wall and makes it narrow; this causes a decrease in the amount of blood that can travel through the artery up to the brain.

How do I know if I have carotid artery disease?

Carotid artery disease can present with many symptoms, most commonly a stroke or transient ischemic attack (TIA), or the symptoms associated with stroke/TIA. These symptoms include, but are not limited to:

  • Weakness or loss of feeling in on side of the body
  • Visual disturbance
  • Dizziness
  • Speech impairment
  • Previous stroke or TIA

An ultrasound screening of the carotid arteries is often performed to determine the presence of disease. If carotid artery disease is found, ultrasound is also used to monitor the disease development over time, to help determine when or if treatment should be performed. Ultrasound is used after surgery to determine success of the procedure or possible reoccurrence of disease.

Who is at risk for developing carotid disease?

Common risk factors that increase the risk of developing carotid artery disease are: smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and advanced age among other factors.