What is Carotid Artery Disease?
The carotid artery in the neck supplies blood to the brain and face. The artery divides into two branches just below the jaw; the external carotid artery supplies blood to the face whilst the internal carotid artery supplies blood directly to the brain.
Arteries can often become diseased where they divide and branch off. At this point the artery can become narrow. With the carotid artery, this can directly restrict blood flow to the brain. Importantly, debris such blood clots and plaque (made up of cholesterol, calcium, and fibrous tissue) stuck to the narrowed artery may break off into the bloodstream and pass into the brain or into the artery to the eye.
How common is carotid artery disease?
Carotid artery disease is more common with increasing age.
What causes carotid artery disease?
Hardening of the arteries due to smoking, high cholesterol and high blood pressure causes most cases of carotid artery disease.
Conditions such as carotid aneurysm disease, fibromuscular dysplasia, and diabetes can also cause carotid artery disease.
What are the risks associated with carotid artery disease?
Debris passing into the brain from the diseased artery may produce a mini-stroke or transient ischaemic attack (TIA). If the narrowing of the artery is very tight there is high risk of a major stroke.
What are the symptoms of carotid artery disease?
The first sign of carotid artery disease unfortunately could be a stroke or mini-stroke.
Symptoms for both a mini-stroke and a stroke include:
- Feeling weakness, numbness, or a tingling sensation on one side of the body
- Being unable to control the movement of an arm or leg
- Loss of vision in one eye
- Being unable to speak clearly
With a mini-stroke, symptoms go away within an hour. However, if symptoms persist for longer then a major stroke may have occurred. Both a mini-stroke and major stroke require immediate medical attention.
How can carotid artery disease be treated?
Depending on severity, carotid artery disease can be treated with medication and life style changes, such as weight loss, dietary and nutritional review, smoking cessation and stress management.
In severe cases surgery may be necessary to either remove the build up of plaque in the artery or widen the artery through the use of an inflatable balloon (angioplasty) to flatten out the plaque build up.