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Carotid Artery Disease

Carotid artery disease occurs when the carotid arteries become narrowed or blocked.The carotid arteries provide part of the main blood supply to the brain. They are located on each side of the neck.

Carotid artery disease occurs when fatty material called plaque builds up inside the arteries. This buildup of plaque is called hardening of the arteries, or atherosclerosis.

The plaque may slowly block or narrow the carotid artery, or it can cause a clot to form suddenly. A clot that completely blocks the artery can lead to a stroke.

Risk factors for blockage or narrowing of the arteries include:

  • Smoking
  • Diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol and triglycerides
  • Older age
  • Family history of stroke
  • Alcohol use
  • Recreational drug use
  • Trauma to neck area, which may cause a tear in the carotid artery

Signs & Symptoms

Symptoms may take time to appear. After plaque builds up, the first symptoms of carotid artery disease may be a stroke or a transient ischemic attack (TIA). A TIA is a small stroke that doesn’t cause any lasting damage.

Symptoms of stroke and TIA include:

  • Blurred vision
  • Confusion
  • Loss of memory
  • Loss of sensation
  • Problems with speech and language, including loss of speech
  • Vision loss (partial or complete blindness)
  • Weakness in one part of your body
  • Problems with thinking, reasoning, and memory

Diagnosis

A Deborah Heart and Lung Center physician will perform a physical exam. The physician may use a stethoscope to listen to blood flow in the neck for an unusual sound called a bruit. This sound may be a sign of carotid artery disease.

The physician may also detect clots in the blood vessels of the eye. If the patient has had a stroke or TIA, a neurological exam will show other problems.

The physician may also order the following tests:

  • Blood cholesterol and triglycerides test
  • Blood sugar (glucose) test
  • Ultrasound of the carotid arteries to see how well blood is flowing through the carotid artery