Carotid artery disease
occurs when fatty deposits (plaques) clog the blood vessels that deliver blood to your brain and head (carotid arteries). The blockage increases your risk of Stroke, a medical emergency that occurs when the blood supply to the brain is interrupted or seriously reduced.
Stroke deprives your brain of oxygen. Within minutes, brain cells begin to die. Stroke is the fourth most common cause of death and the leading cause of permanent disability in the U.S.
Carotid artery disease develops slowly. The first sign that you have the condition may be a Stroke or Transient ischemic attack (TIA). TIA is a temporary shortage of blood flow to your brain.
Treatment of carotid artery disease usually involves a combination of lifestyle changes, medication and sometimes surgery.
In its early stages, carotid artery disease often doesn’t produce any signs or symptoms. The condition may go unnoticed until it’s serious enough to deprive your brain of blood, causing a Stroke or TIA.
Signs and symptoms of a Stroke or TIA include:
Factors that increase your risk of carotid artery disease include:
High blood pressure.
Excess pressure on artery walls can weaken them and make them more vulnerable to damage.
Nicotine can irritate the inner lining of your arteries. Smoking also increases your heart rate and blood pressure.
Diabetes lowers your ability to process fats efficiently, placing you at greater risk of high blood pressure and atherosclerosis.
High blood-fat levels.
High levels of low-density lipoprotein cholesterol and high levels of triglycerides, a blood fat, encourage the accumulation of plaques.
Your risk of carotid artery disease is higher if a relative has atherosclerosis or Coronary artery disease.
Arteries become less flexible and more prone to injury with age.
Excess weight increases your chances of high blood pressure, atherosclerosis and Diabetes.
Spells of stopping breathing at night may increase your risk of Stroke.
Lack of exercise.
It contributes to conditions that damage your arteries, including high blood pressure, Diabetes and Obesity.
Carotid artery disease causes about 10 to 20 percent of Strokes. Stroke is a medical emergency that can leave you with permanent brain damage and muscle weakness. In severe cases, Stroke can be fatal.
Carotid artery disease can lead to Stroke through:
Reduced blood flow.
A carotid artery may become so narrowed by atherosclerosis that not enough blood is able to reach portions of your brain.
A piece of a plaque may break off and flow to smaller arteries in your brain. The plaque fragment may get stuck in one of these smaller arteries, creating a blockage that cuts off blood supply to part of your brain.
Blood clot blockage.
Some plaques are prone to cracking and forming irregular surfaces on the artery wall. Your body reacts as if to an injury and sends blood cells that help the clotting process to the area. The result can be a large clot that blocks or slows blood flow to the brain, causing a Stroke.
TREATMENTS AND DRUGS
The goal in treating carotid artery disease is to prevent Stroke. Specific treatments depend on the extent of blockage in your carotid arteries.
If blockage is mild to moderate, your doctor may recommend:
Lifestyle changes to slow the progression of atherosclerosis. Recommendations may include quitting smoking, losing weight, eating healthy foods, reducing salt and exercising regularly.
Medication to control blood pressure or lower cholesterol. Your doctor may also recommend taking a daily aspirin or other blood-thinning medication to prevent blood clots.
If blockage is severe, or if you’ve already had a TIA or Stroke, your doctor may recommend removing the blockage from the artery. The options include:
the most common treatment for severe carotid artery disease. After making an incision along the front of your neck, the surgeon opens the affected carotid artery and removes the plaques. The artery is repaired with either stitches or a graft.
Carotid angioplasty and stenting,
if the blockage is too difficult to reach with carotid endarterectomy or you have other health conditions that make surgery too risky. You are given local anesthesia and a tiny balloon is threaded by catheter to the area of the clog. The balloon is inflated to widen the artery, and a small wire mesh coil (stent) is inserted to keep the artery from narrowing again.
LIFESTYLE AND HOME REMEDIES
To prevent or slow the progression of carotid artery disease, consider these suggestions:
Within a few years of quitting, a former smoker’s risk of Stroke is similar to a nonsmoker’s.
Maintain a healthy weight.
Being overweight contributes to other risk factors, such as high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, Diabetes and Sleep apnea.
Limit cholesterol and fat.
Cutting back on saturated fat, in particular, may reduce buildup of plaques in your arteries.
Eat a variety of fruits and vegetables.
They contain nutrients such as potassium, folate and antioxidants, which may protect against a TIA or Stroke.
Excess salt may increase blood pressure in people who are sensitive to sodium. Experts recommend that healthy adults eat less than 1,500 milligrams of sodium a day.
Exercise can lower your blood pressure, increase your level of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol — the “good” cholesterol — and improve the overall health of your blood vessels and heart. It also helps you lose weight, control Diabetes and reduce stress.
Control chronic conditions. Managing conditions such as Diabetes and high blood pressure helps protect your arteries.