Carotid Arteries and Stroke Prevention
The carotid arteries in our necks are two of four vessels that supply blood to the brain. Similar to the disease process that leads to hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis) in other parts of the body, the carotid arteries can build up plaque leading to narrowing. Although the narrowing may decrease blood flow through the artery, it is the risk of small pieces of the plaque breaking off that is most concerning.
A stroke, may occur when a piece of carotid plaque is carried down stream cutting off blood supply to a part of the brain. Symptoms of a stroke include:
Weakness, numbness or paralysis in your face, arm or leg, typically on one side of your body.
Slurred or garbled speech or difficulty understanding others.
Blindness in one or both eyes or double vision.
Dizziness or loss of balance or coordination.
Any patients who experience symptoms of a stroke, must seek immediate emergency medical attention. Even if they last only a short while and you feel normal, see a doctor right away. You may have experienced a mini-stroke, or TIA; an important sign that you are at risk of a full-blown stroke.
Talk to your doctor if you have risk factors for carotid artery disease. Even if you don't have any signs or symptoms, your doctor may recommend aggressive management of your risk factors to protect you from stroke. Seeing a doctor early increases your chances that carotid artery disease will be found and treated before a disabling stroke occurs.
If blockage is mild to moderate, your doctor may recommend:
Lifestyle changes to slow the progression of atherosclerosis. Recommendations may include quitting smoking, losing weight, eating healthy foods, reducing salt and exercising regularly.
Medication to control blood pressure or lower cholesterol. Your doctor may also recommend taking a daily aspirin or other blood-thinning medication to prevent blood clots.
Carotid endarterectomy is the most common treatment for severe carotid artery disease. After making an incision along the front of your neck, the surgeon opens the affected carotid artery and removes the plaques. The artery is repaired with a patch.