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Carotid artery disease occurs when plaque builds up in the carotid arteries of the neck, causing a blockage that reduces blood flow to the brain. There are two carotid arteries in your neck, each supplying one side of your brain. When these arteries become narrowed or blocked, blood flow is reduced. The reduced blood flow can lead to a stroke.
Carotid artery disease is caused by plaque (a sticky substance made up of cholesterol, calcium and fibrous tissue) in the carotid artery. A buildup of plaque causes the artery to narrow and harden, resulting in reduced blood flow to the brain.
There are things you can do to reduce your risk of developing carotid artery disease:
Often, there are no symptoms associated with the beginning stages of carotid artery disease, and unfortunately, stroke can sometimes be the first sign. Warning signs of a stroke (known as transient ischemic attacks or TIAs) can include:
Even if these symptoms resolve quickly, they indicate a strong possibility of an impending stroke. If you experience any of these symptoms, contact your physician immediately.
Physicians at Ohio State's Wexner Medical Center have expertise in treating carotid artery disease. We educate our patients about lifestyle habits and medications that may keep the disease from progressing. Ohio State is home to skilled physicians who perform surgery as well as minimally invasive procedures to treat all stages of carotid artery disease.
Your physician uses a stethoscope to listen to your carotid arteries. He or she will listen for a bruit (whooshing sound) that indicates reduced blood flow. During this visit, your physician will also inquire about symptoms you have experienced and identify if you have any conditions that increase your risk of developing carotid artery disease.
After performing a physical exam and learning about your symptoms and medical history, your doctor may choose to test for carotid artery disease. Tests include:
Your physician may recommend lifestyle changes such as quitting smoking, beginning an exercise regimen and lowering saturated fat in your diet to stop carotid artery disease from progressing. He or she may also recommend medications such as aspirin to thin your blood or statins to control blood lipid (fat) levels.
If you are experiencing warning signs of a stroke, have experienced a stroke or have severe narrowing of the arteries with or without symptoms, surgery may be necessary. Surgical procedures include:
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