There are two carotid arteries in your neck, each supplying blood to one side of your brain. Carotid artery disease occurs when these arteries become narrowed or blocked, reducing blood flow. As plaque builds up, your risk of developing blood clots increases. A blood clot can travel through your bloodstream and lodge in your brain. Plaque buildup and blood clots result in reduced blood flow to your brain, and can cause stroke. Depending on how much of your brain is affected, stroke can result in permanent brain damage, paralysis or even death.

Carotid artery disease can be identified through these tests:

  • Carotid angiogram – An X-ray of the carotid arteries to identify blockage; it is performed by inserting a tube into an artery in the leg and injecting a contrast dye into the artery
  • MRA (magnetic resonance arteriography) – A noninvasive imaging procedure that uses large magnets, radiofrequencies and a computer to evaluate blood flow through arteries
  • Carotid duplex – A painless ultrasound procedure that shows how well blood is flowing through the carotid arteries

Carotid endarterectomy is a procedure used to treat carotid artery disease. During this procedure, your surgeon makes an incision in your neck in order to remove the plaque from the inner lining of your carotid arteries, restoring proper blood flow to your brain. A carotid endarterectomy is recommended for individuals with severe blockage in their neck arteries who are at high risk of having a stroke. It is a safe and long-lasting treatment that restores proper blood flow to your brain. Learn more about vascular care at Ohio State.

What to expect during a carotid artery surgery

Preparing for your procedure

Your doctor may advise you not to eat or drink anything for several hours prior to your procedure.

During your procedure

You are given a general anesthetic before your carotid endarterectomy. Your neck is cleaned and shaved as a precaution to prevent infection.

Your physician makes an incision in your neck and opens your blocked carotid artery. The plaque in the artery is removed, and your artery and incision are closed. The procedure takes about two hours.

Carotid endarterectomy recovery

After a carotid endarterectomy, you spend one or two nights in the hospital. Your neck may hurt and you may have difficulty swallowing.

After you return home, your physician will likely recommend you refrain from heavy lifting and vigorous activity for a week.

Contact your physician immediately if you experience severe headaches, swelling in your neck or any change in brain function, such as difficulty speaking or performing common functions.

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