Carotid artery disease develops when your carotid arteries become narrower or blocked due to the buildup of plaque, or fatty deposits. Your carotid arteries supply blood to your brain and head, so blockages in these vessels can be serious. Compromised blood flow to your brain can lead to a stroke, a significant cause of death and disability throughout the U.S.
Unfortunately, carotid artery disease doesn’t usually present symptoms in its early stages. Most people don’t know they have it until the issue is pronounced enough to result in a stroke or a transient ischemic attack — a temporary shortage of blood flow to the brain.
For this reason, doctors are becoming more proactive in helping patients assess their risk for carotid artery disease. Fortunately, there are screening options available for at-risk patients, as well as treatments to prevent serious complications. Here’s what you should know.
What Are the Risk Factors for Carotid Artery Disease?
There are several factors that can contribute to the accumulation of fatty deposits — made of cholesterol, fat, and blood cells — which can clog your blood vessels, including:
- High blood pressure
- Sleep apnea
- High blood-fat levels, including low-density lipoprotein (LDL, or “bad” cholesterol)
- Tobacco use
- A family history of carotid artery disease
- Sedentary lifestyle
How Do Doctors Screen for It?
If you have any of the risk factors for carotid artery disease, doctors may use a stethoscope to listen for abnormalities in the blood vessels of your neck. When your arteries are narrowed, a whistling sound known as a bruit may be detected via stethoscope.
If carotid artery disease is suspected, there are some imaging tests doctors can use to confirm the size and location of the blockage, including:
- Duplex ultrasound to assess blood flow
- Computed tomography angiography (CTA), which uses special dye and X-rays to create detailed images of the carotid arteries
- Cerebral angiography, a procedure that involves injecting contrast material through a catheter into your arteries, allowing doctors to see the blockage in detail
- Magnetic resonance angiography (MRA), a noninvasive imaging test that uses magnetic waves to produce images of your arteries
What Are the Treatments for Carotid Artery Disease?
The primary goal of carotid artery disease treatment is to slow its progression and prevent complications. For some people with minor narrowing of the arteries, lifestyle modifications like smoking cessation, dietary changes, and exercise may be sufficient. In more severe cases, medical intervention may be necessary. Here are some available treatments for carotid artery disease.
- Anti-Platelet Medication: Both over-the-counter options like aspirin and prescription medications can help control the binding of platelets to prevent blockages that lead to strokes. These approaches are ideal for patients for whom surgery is not indicated.
- Carotid Endarterectomy: In this surgical procedure, plaque is removed from the artery to reduce the risk of a blockage. Most patients go home the next day, and the surgery is considered safe and well-proven.
- Carotid Artery Stenting: In this procedure, a stent is inserted into the affected area of the artery to open it up, allowing for sufficient blood flow.
- Transcarotid Artery Revascularization (TCAR): This minimally invasive procedure is used to clear blockages and open narrowed arteries. Blood flow is temporarily reversed so any plaques that may detach during surgery are directed away from the brain.
If you’ve been diagnosed with carotid artery disease, allow Vascular Surgical Associates to discuss treatment options with you. We have eleven board-certified surgeons who specialize in treating the condition and can help you make an informed decision that’s best for your health. See our locations online or call 770-423-0595 to schedule an appointment.