Carotid artery disease, a major cause of stroke, occurs when the arteries in the neck supplying oxygen-rich blood to the brain become narrowed or blocked altogether. There is usually very little warning that the disease has progressed so far as to cause a stroke, but if it can be detected prior to the stroke, there are treatment options to help prevent it from happening.
There are often no symptoms of carotid artery disease until it leads to a stroke. However, some patients experience a transient ischemic attack, or TIA, as a warning sign that a stroke is imminent. If you experience any of the symptoms of TIA listed below, you should promptly report these to your doctor. This is particularly important because if they last longer than a few hours, they could be an indication of stroke.
The symptoms of carotid artery disease-caused TIA include:
- Inability to speak clearly/difficulty in pronouncing words
- Numbness, weakening, or tingling on one side of the body or in one arm or leg
- Partial loss of vision in one eye
- Temporary inability to control movement in one arm or leg
Risk Factors for Carotid Artery Disease
The cause of carotid artery disease is atherosclerosis, or narrowing of the arteries. A family history of atherosclerosis is one of the main causes of the condition, in addition to:
- High blood pressure
- Male gender
Treating Carotid Artery Disease
Before developing a treatment plan, a doctor will consider the symptoms exhibited by the patient, checking such things as the status of every blood vessel that provides blood to the brain, and the degree of narrowing in the carotid artery.
Treatments vary in degree of invasiveness. More invasive procedures are carotid endarterectomy to remove plaque from the inner lining of the carotid arteries. If the symptoms allow it, the doctor may choose a more minimally invasive approach, such as angioplasty and stenting to widen an artery and maintain that level of openness over time.
Often, patients can reduce their risk of advancing carotid artery disease by making some simple changes in lifestyle, including:
- Decreasing intake of saturated fat and/or cholesterol
- Losing weight
- Maintaining a regular exercise program
- Quitting smoking
- Reducing alcohol intake