The carotid arteries supply oxygen-rich blood to your head and brain. The buildup of sticky fatty deposits (plaque) in these major blood vessels, especially in the neck area, can narrow them and lead to carotid artery disease. Advancing age, poor diet choices and lifestyle all can contribute to the accumulation of plaque on the normally smooth vessel walls. Atherosclerosis, commonly known as “hardening of the arteries,” may then develop and result in stroke, a serious and potentially life-threatening health concern.
The risk of developing carotid artery disease increases with age. About 10 percent of adults in their 80s have significantly narrowed carotid arteries. Smoking also puts you at higher risk. Carotid artery disease, however, can be prevented or slowed through eating a well-balanced diet, exercising regularly and maintaining an ideal body weight. Proper management of conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure and elevated cholesterol levels are highly recommended.
Signs & Symptoms | Screening & Diagnosis | Treatment Options
Signs and Symptoms
Carotid artery disease typically develops silently, unfortunately revealing itself only when a stroke occurs. Warning signs of stroke, known as transient ischemic attacks (TIAs), provide an opportunity to seek medical attention and should not be ignored. Often coming on suddenly, symptoms of TIA include:
- Numbness, tingling or weakness, often on only one side of the body
- Difficulty speaking and understanding
- Problems with vision in one or both eyes
- Dizziness or loss of balance
Even if you are not experiencing symptoms, you may have carotid artery disease based on your risk factors. Your primary care physician may order diagnostic imaging studies to assess the health of your carotid arteries to help prevent TIAs or stroke.
Screening and Diagnosis
The reasons for stroke are varied. Our vascular surgeons closely collaborate with other NorthShore specialists, including neurologists, to accurately determine if your TIA symptoms are due to carotid artery disease.
During your comprehensive evaluation, one of our experienced board-certified specialists will ask you about your medical history and conduct a physical exam. If carotid artery disease is suspected, a carotid duplex ultrasound of your neck will help assess if your arteries are blocked. Other imaging and diagnostic tests may include magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), computed tomography (CT) and angiography.
The treatment of mild to moderately blocked carotid arteries often starts with improving your lifestyle choices (diet and exercise), quitting smoking and controlling other health conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Your vascular surgeon may recommend medications, from statins to lower cholesterol to anticoagulants to “thin” your blood for better flow and to prevent blood clots.
If you are experiencing symptoms from your carotid plaque or imaging tests have revealed severe narrowing of your carotid arteries, you may require surgery to remove the plaque from your clogged blood vessels. At NorthShore, our board-certified vascular surgeons have a great deal of experience with minimally invasive techniques and open surgery for the treatment of carotid artery disease.
- Carotid Endarterectomy—This commonly performed procedure for treating severe carotid artery disease literally involves removing plaque from inside the narrowed artery. Through an incision in your neck, the plaque is extracted from the inner lining of the blood vessel. Local or general anesthesia may be used. Typically patients spend 1 to 2 days in the hospital.
- Transcarotid Artery Revascularization (TCAR)—This innovative minimally invasive technique involves making a small incision (approximately 1-inch) at the base of the neck to safely and precisely deliver a stent across the area of blockage. Now performed by NorthShore vascular surgeons, this groundbreaking procedure uses a method that specifically protects the brain to lower the risk of strokes. It offers a promising treatment option for patients who may be at high risk for conventional carotid endarterectomy. Local or general anesthesia may be used. Typically patients spend 1 to 2 days in the hospital.
- Angioplasty and Stenting—Minimally invasive balloon angioplasty may be recommended to open up a blocked carotid artery. Performed by our experienced vascular surgeons, this innovative procedure is used to make room in a narrowed artery for a stent. Acting as a miniature scaffold, the stent props up the arterial walls and allow blood to freely flow through the artery. Typically patients spend 1 to 2 days in the hospital.
Our vascular surgery team tailors these various treatment options to your specific situation to ensure the best outcomes and to optimize your care.
For More Information
Please call 847.663.8050 for more information on carotid artery disease or to schedule an appointment with one of our vascular surgery specialists.