The carotid arteries are the two large blood vessels that extend down your neck and provide necessary blood to the head and brain. Carotid artery disease begins when a buildup of plaque narrows the artery, causing a decrease of blood flow to the brain. The plaque initially has a wax-like consistency and can harden over time, making it hard for blood to run through the vessel. This hardened plaque can break off and cause clots, or travel to smaller arteries. The plaques can also buildup until there is a complete blockage in the artery. In either case, a stroke or transient ischemic attack (TIA) can occur and cause serious damage to your brain. Carotid artery disease is usually undetectable until a stroke or TIA happens.
Plaque buildup, also known as atherosclerosis, occurs when the inner walls of the arteries get damaged. The plaques consist of cholesterol, fibrous tissue and calcium that build up in your body and settle in the artery walls. Plaque development can be caused by:
- High cholesterol
- High blood pressure
- Lack of exercise
Carotid artery disease is usually slow in its progression, depending on what is causing it. Over time the artery gets narrower without you even knowing anything is wrong. Eliminating and treating the risk factors you can control, can greatly decrease your chance of getting carotid artery disease.
Generally, you will be diagnosed with this disease only after having a stroke or TIA. Keeping up with your yearly physicals is a great way to stay on top of your health. Because treatable conditions can lead to carotid artery disease, early diagnosis of diabetes and high cholesterol can help ensure you do not develop plaques. Doctors can sometimes diagnose a problem by using a stethoscope to listen for what is called a “bruit,” which is an abnormal sound usually indicating that the blood is not flowing properly. It is not a 100% accurate test, and if a bruit is not found, it does not necessarily mean you are in the clear. Your doctor may also use a carotid ultrasound or MRA to detect plaques and blood clots in your arteries.
Treatments can range from preventive to corrective surgery. If you find out you are at risk for carotid artery disease before you have a stroke your doctor will probably put you on a treatment plan that involves lifestyle changes such as,
- Quitting smoking
- Starting an exercise plan
- Switching to a heart-healthy diet
- Taking medications
These changes can reduce your risk for not only carotid artery disease, but many other problems associated with these risk factors. If you have already had a stroke or TIA, your doctor may decide to go into the artery to remove the blockage. A carotid endarterectomy, and a carotid angioplasty and stenting, are the two most common types of surgeries to treat this disease. If you have one of these surgeries done, you will also be put on a preventive plan to ensure the plaques do not reoccur.
Baton Rouge Vascular Specialty Center can help diagnose a problem and treat this disease. If you feel you are at risk for carotid artery disease, call (225) 769-4493 or click brvsc.com schedule a consultation.