Northside Hospital - Carotid Disease


Carotid Disease

Carotid artery disease, also called carotid artery stenosis, refers to the narrowing of carotid arteries, the two large blood vessels that supply oxygenated blood to the large, front part of the brain. It occurs when fatty, waxy deposits called plaques clog your carotid arteries. Buildup of plaques in the carotid arteries blocks blood supply to your brain and puts you at an increased risk of stroke.


Carotid artery disease develops slowly and often doesn’t produce any symptoms. Sometimes, the first sign of carotid artery disease is a stroke.

Stroke symptoms include:

  • Sudden numbness or weakness in the face or limbs, usually on one side of the body
  • Trouble speaking or understanding speech
  • Trouble seeing
  • Dizziness
  • Sudden onset of a severe headache

Even if symptoms don’t last very long, see your doctor as soon as possible. These could be important signs that you are at a high risk for having a stroke.


Since there are often no symptoms of carotid disease, it’s vitally important to see your doctor for regular physical examinations. If your doctor detects an abnormal sound in the neck where the carotid arteries are located, this could mean you have carotid artery disease.

Other tests include:


Treatment of carotid artery disease involves a combination of lifestyle changes, medications and, in some severe cases, surgery or a stenting procedure. When you have a severe blockage, it’s best to remove the arteries through open surgery. There are two ways to do this:

  • Carotid endarterectomy - The most common treatment for severe carotid artery disease. The procedure is done under either local or general anesthesia. After making an incision along the front of your neck, your surgeon opens the affected carotid artery and removes the plaques. The artery is repaired with either stitches or, preferably, a graft.

  • Carotid angioplasty and stenting - When the location of the narrowing or blockage is too difficult for the surgeon to access directly or when you have other health conditions that make surgery too risky, your doctor may recommend a procedure called carotid angioplasty and stenting. While you're under local anesthesia, a tiny balloon is threaded by catheter to the area where your carotid artery is clogged. It is then inflated to widen the artery, and a small wire mesh coil called a stent is inserted to keep the artery from narrowing again.


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