Carotid Artery Disease

What Is Carotid Artery Disease?

Carotid artery disease is a condition in which a fatty material called plaque, which is the buildup of cholesterol, fat, and other substances traveling through the bloodstream, such as inflammatory cells, cellular waste products, proteins, and calcium builds up inside the carotid arteries. You have two common carotid arteries—one on each side of your neck—that divide into internal and external carotid arteries.

The internal carotid arteries supply oxygen-rich blood to your brain. The external carotid arteries supply oxygen-rich blood to your face, scalp, and neck. Plaque buildup can lead to narrowing or blockage in the carotid artery which can put you at increased risk for stroke.

What are the symptoms?

There may not be any symptoms of carotid artery disease. However, there are warning signs for a stroke, which can be provoked by clogged arteries. A transient ischemic attack (TIA) is one of the more obvious warning signs of a stroke. A TIA, or ‘mini-stroke’, occurs when a blood clot momentarily blocks an artery, interrupting the supply of blood to the brain. The following symptoms of a TIA, which are temporary and may last a few minutes or a few hours, can occur alone or in combination:

  • Sudden loss of vision or blurred vision in one or both eyes
  • Weakness and/or numbness on one side of the face, or in one arm or leg, or one side of the body
  • Slurred speech, difficulty talking or understanding what others are saying
  • Loss of coordination
  • Dizziness or confusion
  • Difficulty swallowing

Complications of Carotid Disease

Carotid artery disease can be very serious because it can cause a stroke, or “brain attack.” A stroke occurs when blood flow to your brain is cut off.  If blood flow is cut off for more than a few minutes, the cells in your brain start to die. This impairs the parts of the body that the brain cells control. A stroke can cause lasting brain damage, long-term disability, paralysis (an inability to move), or death.

Surgical Treatment of Carotid Artery Disease

Surgery is usually advised for carotid narrowing of more than 70%. Less obstructed arteries have a better opportunity to be treated with lifestyle changes and medical interventions. Surgical treatment decreases the risk for stroke after symptoms such as TIA or minor stroke.

Carotid endarterectomy (CEA). This is surgery to remove plaque and blood clots from the carotid arteries helping to prevent strokes in patients experiencing arterial thinning of 70% or more.

Carotid artery angioplasty with stenting (CAS). Using a very small hollow tube or catheter thread through a blood vessel in the groin to the carotid arteries. Once the catheter is in place, a balloon is inflated to prop open the artery and so a stent can be placed in the target area. A stent is a thin, metal-mesh framework used to hold the artery open, allowing increased blood flow and limiting the potential for strokes and clots.

Carotid Artery Disease Treatment at the University of Illinois Neurosurgery Department

Our team of neurosurgeons specializes in the treatment and diagnosis of rare and complex neurological conditions and disorders. We often treat patients who have been unable to receive the care they truly need. If you are suffering from a complex neurological condition, refer to our contact page to correspond with a member of our team about a consultation!