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What is Carotid Artery Disease?
Carotid artery disease occurs when the carotid arteries, the main blood vessels that carry oxygenated blood to the brain, become narrowed. Because the carotid arteries deliver blood to the brain, carotid artery disease can be serious.
If the narrowing becomes severe enough to block blood flow, or a piece of plaque breaks off and obstructs blood flow to the brain, a stroke may occur. Carotid artery disease is usually caused by atherosclerosis, a build-up of plaque in the inner lining of an artery, commonly called “hardening of the arteries.” Atherosclerosis is a slow, progressive disease that may start as early as childhood. Risk factors associated with atherosclerosis include:
- Age (older adults are more often affected)
- Gender (men are often affected)
- Family history
- Race or ethnicity
- Genetic factors
- Hyperlipidemia (elevated fats in the blood)
- Hypertension (high blood pressure)
- Diet high in saturated fat
- Lack of exercise
Symptoms of Carotid Artery Disease
Some patients who have carotid artery disease have no symptoms. There can be a significant amount of atherosclerotic build-up without obstructing enough blood flow to cause symptoms.
However, many people who have carotid artery disease may experience:
- Transient ischemic attack (TIA)—This sudden or temporary loss of blood flow to an area of the brain usually lasts a few minutes to an hour. Symptoms go away entirely within 24 hours, with complete recovery. Symptoms of TIA may include:
- Sudden weakness or clumsiness of an arm and/or leg on one side of the body
- Sudden inability to move an arm and/or leg on one side of the body
- Loss of coordination or movement
- Confusion, dizziness, fainting, and/or headache
- Numbness or loss of feeling in the face
- Numbness or loss of feeling in an arm and/or leg
- Temporary loss of vision or blurred vision
- Inability to speak clearly or slurred speech
- Stroke—A loss of blood flow to the brain that continues long enough to cause permanent brain damage. This may include impairment of movement, speech, thinking, memory, bowel and bladder function, eating, emotional control, and other vital functions. Recovery depends on the size and location of the stroke. A stroke may result in problems such as weakness in an arm or leg or may cause paralysis, loss of speech, or even death.
UR Medicine's Treatments for Carotid Artery Disease
Specific treatment is based on age, overall health, medical history, and symptoms. When the narrowing of the carotid artery is less than 50 percent, treatment often includes:
- Changing risk factors, which include smoking, elevated cholesterol levels, elevated blood glucose levels, lack of exercise, poor dietary habits, and elevated blood pressure.
- Medications, ranging from clot-preventers to cholesterol-lowering drugs and blood pressure medications.
When the narrowing of the carotid artery is greater than 80 percent, a more aggressive treatment may be recommended. Surgical treatment of carotid artery disease includes:
- Carotid endarterectomy (CEA) to remove plaque and clots to help prevent stroke.
- Carotid artery angioplasty with stenting (CAS) for patients at high risk for carotid endarterectomy. In CAS, a very small hollow tube, or catheter, is advanced from a blood vessel to the carotid arteries. Once the catheter is in place, a balloon is inflated to open the artery and a stent is placed to hold the artery open.
What Sets Us Apart?
UR Medicine provides all of the latest and most modern approaches to the treatment of carotid artery disease. And the research we perform at UR Medicine keeps us on the leading edge of treatments.
Our team offers multidisciplinary care as we work with patients to understand the benefits and risks of each treatment option, while coordinating consultations with specialists including cardiac surgery, vascular surgery, nephrology, and cardiology, to provide a seamless experience for patients and their families.
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