Carotid Artery Disease | Loyola Medicine

Carotid Artery Disease (Carotid Stenosis)

Multidisciplinary Care to Diagnose and Treat Carotid Artery Disease

The carotid arteries, located on each side of your neck, carry blood to your brain. Carotid artery disease, also called carotid stenosis, develops when fatty deposits build up, causing a condition called atherosclerosis on one or both of your carotid arteries.

Carotid artery blockage can narrow an artery, or block it completely.  It can also cause a blood clot to form, which can lead to a stroke. In the U.S., stroke is one of the leading causes of death, and about 20 percent of all strokes result from carotid artery disease.

If you suspect carotid artery disease, Loyola’s multidisciplinary team of cardiologists, neurosurgeons, vascular surgeons, nurses and nutritionists will work with you to diagnose and treat your condition.

Loyola’s cardiovascular and neurosurgery programs are nationally recognized for the diagnosis and treatment of cardiovascular and cerebrovascular conditions. We work with you to help you understand your condition and develop a treatment plan that is right for you.

How is Carotid Artery Disease Diagnosed?

In its early stages, carotid artery disease typically causes no symptoms. Carotid artery disease is most often diagnosed after a patient experiences a stroke or transient ischemic attack (TIA). Stroke and TIA symptoms include:

  • Difficulty speaking
  • Weakness in the face, arm, or leg
  • Blurred vision or sudden loss of vision in one eye

While your symptoms may indicate the presence of carotid artery disease, your physician will use your medical history, a physical exam and test results to definitively diagnose your condition.  These tests may include:

  • Carotid ultrasound, a non-invasive test that determines the speed that blood passes through the carotid arteries
  • Magnetic resonance angiography, a non-invasive test that create 2-D and 3-D images of the carotid arteries
  • CT (computed tomography) angiography, a non-invasive test that create 2-D and 3-D images of the carotid arteries
  • Carotid angiography, a more detailed test that requires placing a catheter in the carotid artery to take X-rays of the vessel while dye is injected. 

In addition, your primary care doctor, neurologist or vascular surgeon will determine which test is most appropriate for you.

How is Carotid Artery Disease Treated?

Depending on your specific case, various treatment options are available to reduce your plaque and improve blood flow to your brain. Your treatment may include:

  • Carotid endarterectomy — a surgical procedure to remove plaque through an incision in your artery
  • Carotid stenting — a less-invasive procedure utilizing a catheter to widen your artery and a stent (small mesh tube) to keep it open
  • Medical management — non-surgical treatment to control vascular risks such as blood pressure, cholesterol levels and prevention of blood clots.

In addition, your doctor may recommend you follow a heart-healthy diet and exercise program.

Risk Factors and Risk Reduction for Carotid Artery Disease

People who have a family history of stroke are at higher risk for carotid artery disease, and men are more likely to develop it than women. Other risk factors include:

  • Advanced age
  • Diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Obesity
  • Tobacco use

While carotid artery disease cannot always be avoided, the following steps may help reduce your risk:

  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Manage stress
  • Get regular physical exercise
  • Stop  smoking
  • Limit intake of alcohol
  • Strictly manage  of high blood pressure, cholesterol
  • Prevent or strictly manage diabetes
  • Follow a low cholesterol diet or DASH diet (dietary approaches to stop hypertension)

Adapting a healthy lifestyle with good nutrition and exercise can minimize buildup of artery plaque, and thereby reduce your risk of carotid artery blockage and stroke.