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Carotid Artery Disease

Carotid artery disease is a disease in which a waxy substance called plaque builds up inside the arteries. You have two carotid arteries, one on each side of the neck which divide into the internal and external carotid arteries. The internal arteries supply blood to the brain and the external arteries supply blood to the face, scalp, and neck..

Carotid artery disease is serious because it can cause a stroke if the plaque should build up to the point it cuts off blood supply to the brain, or the plaque ruptures and a blood clot forms in the artery cutting off blood supply to the brain.

Carotid artery disease causes over half the strokes that occur in the United States. Carotid artery disease may not have any symptoms until the arteries are severely narrowed or blocked. For some people, a stroke is the first sign of the disease.

What are the risk factors for carotid artery disease?

  • high cholesterol
  • smoking
  • high blood pressure
  • diabetes
  • obesity
  • unhealthy diet
  • older age
  • family history of stroke or heart disease

Having any of these risk factors does not guarantee you will develop carotid artery disease. However, if you have one or more of these risk factors, you can take steps to help prevent or delay the disease.

Signs and symptoms of carotid artery disease

  • During a physical exam, your doctor may say you have a bruit (a whooshing sound) which may suggest decreased blood flow or blockage in the carotid arteries. Not all people with carotid artery disease will have a bruit.
  • Sudden weakness of the face or limbs, usually on one side of the body.
  • Inability to move one of the arms or legs
  • Trouble speaking or understanding speech
  • Trouble seeing in one or both eyes
  • Dizziness or loss of balance
  • Sudden, severe headache with no known cause

Diagnosis of carotid artery disease

Ultrasound is the most common test for diagnosing carotid artery disease. It is a painless, harmless test which uses sound waves to create pictures of the inside of the carotid arteries to show if plaque is building up and to assess blood flow through the arteries.