Carotid Artery Disease: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

Carotid artery disease occurs when one or both of these arteries become clogged with plaque. This reduces the flow of blood to your brain, increasing the risk of a stroke. Dr. Peter Nakaji can often treat carotid artery disease through a minimally invasive surgery at our Phoenix, AZ, practice. Dr. Nakaji uses the most conservative methods possible in order minimize scarring and reduce patients' recovery time. 

Effects of Carotid Artery Disease

Located in the neck, the carotid arteries carry blood to your brain and head. When they become blocked, a stroke can occur, significantly decreasing the amount of oxygen to the brain. Carotid artery disease develops gradually over time. Some people may experience a transient ischemic attack (TIA), which is a temporary lack of blood flow to the brain. For others, a stroke could be the first warning sign of the disease.

What Causes the Condition?

In some patients, the carotid arteries become clogged with plaque, or clusters of debris such as calcium, cholesterol, and fibrous tissue. Referred to as atherosclerosis, this process leads to stiff and narrow arteries which are unable to efficiently deliver oxygen and nutrients to the brain.

Patients who have an extreme blockage, or have already experienced a TIA or stroke, are typically better candidates for surgery.

There are certain risk factors that contribute to the development of carotid artery disease. These include:

  • High Blood Pressure: Excessive pressure on the walls of the arteries can make them more vulnerable to developing issues.
  • Diabetes: Patients with diabetes are more prone to atherosclerosis and high blood pressure due to their reduced ability to process fats efficiently.
  • Tobacco Use: Smoking raises your blood pressure and heart rate, and nicotine irritates the arterial lining.
  • Family History: Like many other medical issues, you have a higher risk of developing carotid artery disease if there is a genetic factor present.
  • Obesity: Excess body weight puts you at a higher risk for atherosclerosis, high blood pressure, and diabetes.
  • High Blood-Fat Levels: High levels of triglycerides and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol can advance the buildup of plaque in the arteries.
  • Sleep Apnea: Disorders such as sleep apnea that result in decreased oxygen can significantly increase your risk of stroke.
  • Insufficient Exercise: Patients who do not get enough exercise may develop high blood pressure and stroke, both of which can lead to damaged arteries.
  • Age: Arteries become more stiff and rigid as we grow older, and are therefore more prone to injury.

Symptoms of Carotid Artery Disease

Unfortunately, there are not many early warning signs of carotid artery disease. TIA and stroke are both common symptoms of the condition, which can suddenly cause:

  • Weakness or numbness in the limbs or face
  • Trouble speaking and comprehending
  • Loss of balance or dizziness
  • Trouble seeing out of one or both eyes
  • Severe headache

If you experience any of these symptoms, seek medical help immediately. Even if you return to normal following the episode, it is important to see a doctor who can help you prevent further, more serious health problems.

Diagnosis and Treatment Options

During your initial consultation, Dr. Nakaji will perform a full physical examination and discuss your medical history with you in detail. Carotid artery disease is often characterized by a bruit, or “swooshing” sound, that can indicate a narrowed artery. Strength, speech, and memory may also be tested to form an accurate diagnosis. To assess blood flow and evaluate for abnormalities, an ultrasound, MRI scan (magnetic resonance imaging), or CT (computed tomography) angiography may be performed.

Illustration of surgery to correct carotid artery disease

Surgical removal of plaques may be necessary in order to restore some patients' health.

The primary objective of carotid artery treatment is to prevent a stroke from occurring. Specific treatment will depend on the progression of the disease and the degree of blockage that is present. Common treatment options include:

Lifestyle Changes

If the condition is diagnosed as mild to moderate, certain lifestyle changes can help reduce the progression of atherosclerosis. These may include eating a more balanced diet, exercising regularly, losing weight, and quitting smoking.

Medications

Many patients can control the disease by taking aspirin each day in order to prevent blood clots. Additionally, your doctor may recommend medications to lower blood pressure and reduce cholesterol.

Surgery

Patients who have an extreme blockage, or have already experienced a TIA or stroke, are typically better suited for surgery. Dr. Nakaji may recommend:

  • Carotid Endarterectomy: The most common surgical treatment, carotid endarterectomy involves removal of the plaques from the affected artery.
  • Carotid Angioplasty and Stenting: High-risk patients who are not candidates for surgery may benefit from carotid angioplasty and stenting. During this procedure, the doctor uses a catheter to place a balloon within the affected artery. The balloon is then inflated to widen the artery, and a wire mesh stent is placed to discourage the artery from narrowing again.

Contact Our Practice Today

If you identify with any of the signs of carotid artery disease, take action today. To undergo a medical evaluation and learn more about your treatment options, schedule a consultation with Dr. Nakaji. Call our office at (602) 406-4808 or contact our practice online

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