Two carotid arteries go up each side of your neck, delivering blood from the heart to your face, neck, scalp, and the front part of your brain, which is responsible for thinking and speech, as well as sensory and motor functions. When one or both of the carotid arteries narrows, the condition is called carotid artery stenosis.
Carotid artery stenosis is caused by atherosclerosis, a condition that develops over time as cholesterol and other substances gradually collect in a spot on the artery wall, building up plaque that narrows the artery and makes it hard for blood to get through to the brain.
One of the most important things to know about carotid artery stenosis is that you probably won’t have any symptoms until the artery is severely blocked and you’re at risk for having a transient ischemic attack or a stroke. During a checkup, your doctor may identify the blockage by listening to the carotid artery through a stethoscope. Otherwise, you’ll need to recognize the symptoms of a transient ischemic attack or stroke and get immediate medical help.
The symptoms of a transient ischemic attack, or mini-stroke, and a full-fledged stroke are the same, so act quickly and call 9-1-1 if you experience any of the following:
If you have a mini-stroke, the symptoms usually go away within 24 hours, but having a mini-stroke is a red flag that you’re at risk for a stroke, so it’s still vital to call the Consultants in Cardiology & Electrophysiology or go to the emergency department.
Imaging tests such as ultrasound are used to visualize the artery and diagnose carotid artery stenosis. Your doctor at Consultants in Cardiology & Electrophysiology may recommend preventive screening for carotid artery stenosis if you have peripheral artery disease, coronary artery disease, atherosclerotic aortic aneurysm, or you’re 55 years or older and have any of the following risk factors for stroke:
For mild to moderate carotid artery stenosis, the doctor may recommend medications, cutting back on dietary salt, quitting smoking, and losing weight, if necessary. Severe blockages require surgery to remove the plaque or inserting a stent.