The carotid arteries are vessels in the neck that carry blood from the heart and lungs to the head and brain. In a condition known as atherosclerosis, these arteries can become thickened and lose elasticity as well as suffer from plaque build up along the inner wall. These deposits, which are usually made up of fatty tissue, cholesterol and calcium, can narrow the carotid arteries and even cause a blockage of blood flow to the brain, resulting in a stroke.
Symptoms of carotid artery disease often include:
- Weakness or numbness on one side of the body
- Loss of coordination
- Blindness in one eye or blurred vision
- Difficulty speaking
- Severe dizziness
- Severe headache
- Memory loss
These symptoms can vary in duration and may be temporary or permanent. If the symptoms go away within 24 hours, the episode is known as a Transient Ischemic Attack (TIA). Unfortunately, sometimes there are no symptoms of carotid artery disease until a stroke occurs. The most common treatment for carotid artery disease is a surgical procedure called a carotid endarterectomy. Less invasive procedures such as balloon angioplasty and stent placement are also used to open up carotid arteries.
Carotid artery disease is caused by the same factors that contribute to coronary artery disease but tends to develop later in a person’s life. The best way to prevent carotid artery disease is to exercise regularly, eat a diet low in cholesterol and saturated fat, and maintain a healthy weight.