The carotid artery is a crucial part of the circulatory system, responsible for supplying oxygen-rich blood to tissues and organs in the head and neck, including your brain. It is a smooth process, but a hindrance or a blockage can cause serious complications. Carotid artery disease develops when a plaque builds up in the carotid artery over time. It will block the blood supply to the brain, causing a stroke. The change in lifestyle and medication can lower the risk and intensity of the problem.
Following medical problems can affect the carotid artery;
- Carotid artery disease (development of a plaque hinders blood flow)
- Carotid artery aneurysm (growth of blood clot restricts blood supply)
- Carotid artery dissection (the lining of arteries can slow or stop the blood flow)
- Fibromuscular dysplasia (a developmental disorder in blood vessels layers)
Symptoms of Carotid Artery Disease
In the early condition, the carotid artery does not show any symptoms or signs. The state goes unnoticed until its severity, such as a stroke or depriving the blood in your brain.
These are the following signs or symptoms of carotid artery disease;
- Numbness or weakness of the face or limbs, usually on one side of the body
- Trouble speaking or understanding
- Dizziness or loss of balance
- Severe headache with no proper cause
Causes & Risk factors of Carotid Artery Blockage
There are various causes for the development of carotid artery disease over time, such as the accumulation of plaque in the carotid artery. The plaque can be clumps of cholesterol, fibrous tissue, calcium, or other cell debris that gather at the injury site of the artery. This condition is called atherosclerosis. The arteries become stiff and narrow, which have trouble delivering oxygen and blood to the brain. Some factors can be variable, but others are constant and contribute to multiple other factors, such as;
- Smoking or tobacco-containing products
- Family history
- Sedentary lifestyles
- High level of cholesterol
- High blood pressure
- Lack of sleep
- No exercise routine
Diagnosis of Carotid Artery Disease
The diagnosis is evaluated on your medical history and physical examination. The physical examination generally includes a swooshing sound over the carotid artery in your neck, indicating a carotid artery narrowing. Your doctor will then analyze your mental and physical capabilities, like speech, memory, and strength.
After this examination, the following tests are recommended;
- Ultrasound to analyze the flow of blood and pressure.
- CT or MRI to examine evidence of stroke or any other abnormalities.
- CT or MR angiography provides additional blood flow imaging in the carotid artery. A contrast dye is inoculated into the blood vessel, and a CT or MRI scan evaluates images of the neck or brain.
Treatment of Carotid Artery Disease
The primary goal of treating the carotid artery is to prevent stroke. Specific treatments depend on the extent of your carotid artery blockage. If the blockage is from mild to moderate, you are recommended with;
- Change in Lifestyle to slow the Progression of Atherosclerosis: It is strongly recommended to quit smoking, lose weight, have healthy eating habits, reduce salt consumption, and perform regular exercise.
- Medication for Blood Pressure and Cholesterol Control: You are advised to take aspirin or other blood-thinning medicines in your everyday routine to prevent blood clots. If the blockage is severe, or you have already experienced a stroke or TIA, your doctor will recommend you remove the blockage. These treatments include;
- Carotid Endarterectomy: This is the most common treatment for severe carotid artery disease in which an incision is made in front of your neck. The surgeon will open the affected carotid artery and remove the plaques. Stitches or grafts repair the artery.
- Carotid Angioplasty or Stenting: If the blockage is challenging to treat with carotid endarterectomy or you are facing some health issues that cannot support the surgery, it is too risky. You are given anesthesia, and a tiny balloon threaded with a catheter is introduced at the clogged area. The balloon is inflated to widen the artery, and a nanosized mesh coil (stent) is inserted to prevent the artery from narrowing again.