Carotid stenosis is the narrowing of the carotid arteries. Every person has two carotid arteries, which are large blood vessels located on either side of the neck. They transport blood from the heart up to the brain, neck and face. If these arteries become too narrow, the brain can’t get enough oxygen, causing its cells to die. Because of this, carotid stenosis significantly increases a person’s chance for having a stroke. For more information about stroke care and treatment, contact the Atlantic NeuroSurgical Specialists’ Neurovascular Center.
Most people with carotid stenosis don’t notice any symptoms. That’s because the arteries usually narrow slowly over time. Fatty deposits, or plaque, clump along the artery wall. As the plaque continues to grow bigger, the arteries become smaller, restricting the amount of blood that can pass through. The first sign of carotid stenosis is usually a transient ischemic attack (TIA), or mini-stroke. Warning signs of a mini-stroke include:
- Weakness/numbness in the arm or leg
- Difficulty speaking
- Drooping face
- Vision problems
- Paralysis on one side of the body
Even though there are no early symptoms of carotid stenosis, it helps to be aware of certain risk factors. For example, if you’re obese or have high blood pressure, diabetes, high blood-fat levels or a family history of carotid artery disease, you’re more likely to develop the condition.
Diagnosis & Treatment
To diagnose carotid stenosis, your doctor will use a stethoscope to listen to the arteries. If a swishing noise called a “bruit” is present, it could indicate you have a narrowed artery. After that, the doctor may recommend an MR angiography or CT scan to get a better look.
If you are diagnosed with carotid stenosis, there are a few different treatment options. For patients with more than 50% blockage, surgery is often recommended. The procedure is called a carotid endarterectomy and involves the use of special instruments to remove plaque and unclog the artery. Otherwise, medications that help blood flow more easily through the arteries may be prescribed.