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Carotid Artery Disease

Summary

Your carotid arteries are two large blood vessels in your neck. They supply your brain and head with blood. If you have carotid artery disease, the arteries become narrow or blocked, usually because of atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis is the buildup of plaque, which is made up of fat, cholesterol, calcium, and other substances found in the blood.

Carotid artery disease is serious because it can block the blood flow to your brain, causing a stroke. Too much plaque in the artery can cause a blockage. You can also have a blockage when a piece of plaque or a blood clot breaks off the wall of an artery. The plaque or clot can travel through the bloodstream and get stuck in one of your brain's smaller arteries.

Carotid artery disease often does not cause symptoms until the blockage or narrowing is severe. One sign may be a bruit (whooshing sound) that your doctor hears when listening to your artery with a stethoscope. Another sign is a transient ischemic attack (TIA), a "mini-stroke." A TIA is like a stroke, but it only lasts a few minutes, and the symptoms usually go away within an hour. Stroke is another sign.

Imaging tests can confirm whether you have carotid artery disease.

Treatments may include

  • Healthy lifestyle changes
  • Medicines
  • Carotid endarterectomy, surgery to remove the plaque
  • Angioplasty, a procedure to place a balloon and stent into the artery to open it and hold it open

NIH: National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute

Start Here

  • (Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research)
  • (Texas Heart Institute) Also in
  • From the National Institutes of Health (National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute)

Diagnosis and Tests

  • (American College of Radiology, Radiological Society of North America) Also in
  • From the National Institutes of Health (National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute)
  • (American College of Radiology, Radiological Society of North America) Also in
  • (American College of Radiology, Radiological Society of North America) Also in
  • (U.S. Preventive Services Task Force) - PDF

Treatments and Therapies

  • (Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research)
  • From the National Institutes of Health (National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute)
  • From the National Institutes of Health (National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke)

Related Issues

  • (National Stroke Association) - PDF

Images

Clinical Trials

  • From the National Institutes of Health (National Institutes of Health)
  • From the National Institutes of Health (National Institutes of Health)
  • From the National Institutes of Health (National Institutes of Health)

Journal Articles References and abstracts from MEDLINE/PubMed (National Library of Medicine)

Find an Expert

  • From the National Institutes of Health Also in

Patient Handouts

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