Carotid Artery Blockages
The Carotid Arteries
There are two carotid arteries that supply blood to the brain, one on each side of the neck. Your arteries carry oxygen-rich blood away from the heart to the head and body. To feel the carotid arteries, simply place a finger on the pulse of your lower neck. The carotid arteries supply the front part of the brain with oxygen. This is where thinking, speech, personality and sensory and motor functions reside. Like the blood vessels of the heart (coronary arteries), the carotid arteries also develop atherosclerosis, the build-up of fat and cholesterol deposits, called plaque, on the inside of the arteries. Over time, the build-up narrows the artery, decreases blood flow to the brain and can lead to a stroke.
Risk Factors and Symptoms of Carotid Artery Blockages(Carotid Stenosis)
- Family history of atherosclerosis (either coronary artery disease or carotid artery disease)
- High low density lipoprotein (LDL, bad cholesterol)
There may not be any symptoms of carotid artery disease. However, a warning sign for stroke called a transient ischemic attack (also called TIA or “mini-stroke”) can occur. A TIA is a temporary episode of blurred or loss of vision in one or both eyes, weakness and/or numbness of your arm, leg or face on one side of your body, slurring of speech, difficulty talking or understanding what others are saying, a loss of coordination, dizziness or confusion and/or trouble swallowing.
Carotid Duplex Ultrasound – A painless non-invasive imaging procedure that uses sound waves to view the blood vessels in the neck and to determine the presence of narrowing in the carotid arteries. This study is recommended in anyone with heart disease and anyone over the age of 60 or with family history of vascular disease.
Carotid Angiography - If carotid artery disease is suspected, prior to treatment, your doctor may schedule an arteriogram. This is an invasive imaging procedure that involves inserting a catheter into a blood vessel in the arm or leg, and guiding it to the carotid arteries with the aid of a special x-ray machine. Contrast dye is injected through the catheter so that x-ray movies of your carotid arteries are taken.
If the carotid artery has severe narrowing or blockage, a procedure must be done to open the artery and allow blood flow to the brain, to prevent future stroke:
Carotid endarterectomy - This is the standard surgical treatment for carotid artery disease. While the patient is under general anesthesia, an incision is made in the neck, at the location of the blockage. The surgeon opens the carotid artery and removes the plaque and diseased portions of the artery. Then, the artery is sewn back together to allow blood flow to the brain. This is a very successful procedure and will prevent a stroke from occurring.
Carotid Stent – This minimally invasive procedure involves inserting a catheter into the carotid artery from a small incision in the groin. This procedure is recommended for patients who cannot undergo open surgery.
Only vascular surgeons can offer both carotid endarterectomy and carotid stents. At Horizon Vascular Specialists, we are pleased to offer successful procedures to address Carotid Artery Blockages. For more information, contact us.