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Carotid Artery Disease: Everything You Need to Know

Carotid artery disease is extremely serious, often causing strokes that prove to be either life-changing or fatal. Unfortunately, it isn’t a disease that is understood by most of the general population. Here’s a quick overview of the disease, plus its risk factors and symptoms.

What are Carotid Arteries?

If you place your fingers on each side of your neck, just below the jaw, you should be able to feel blood pulsing through your carotid arteries. It is these two large blood vessels that are responsible for providing oxygenated blood to the front of your brain – to the very centres involved in speech, critical thinking, and motor function.

What is Carotid Artery Disease?

Carotid artery disease, also referred to as carotid artery stenosis, can be thought of as a type of atherosclerosis. This means that the arteries have become hardened over time thanks to a build-up of plaque. When this occurs, the flow of blood is impeded; clots are more likely to occur, and arteries may become completely blocked.

Since the carotid arteries are so important, stenosis is extremely serious. Developing carotid artery disease can put you at increased risk of having a stroke, and that could create irreparable damage to the brain.

What are the Risk Factors of Carotid Artery Disease?

A family history of coronary artery disease, carotid artery disease, or general atherosclerosis is an important risk factor, but lifestyle changes are often the central cause that leads to the development of this issue.

These lifestyle factors include smoking, which helps harden the walls of your arteries, a poor diet, which creates more fatty substances that develop into plaque, and a lack of exercise. You will also find yourself at increased risk if you suffer from obesity or diabetes, or are a senior citizen.

What are the Symptoms of Carotid Artery Disease?

Despite its severity, carotid artery disease rarely presents noticeable symptoms until a carotid artery has become almost entirely blocked, in which case a patient is likely to experience a stroke. However, you may experience a transient ischemic attack (TIA), often thought of as a ‘mini-stroke’. A TIA is caused by a clot, but it differs from a stroke in that the clot is only temporary; most TIAs will last only around one minute.

TIA signs include:

  • Sudden Weakness or Paralysis
  • Slurred Speech
  • Dizziness
  • Double Vision
  • Loss of Coordination
  • Intense Headache

Since these symptoms pass extremely quickly, they are often ignored. Unfortunately, they are only early warning signs of an actual stroke, so they need to be taken seriously.

For more information, contact a vascular surgeon in your area.