Carotid Stenosis

Carotid stenosis is a medical condition where the carotid artery becomes narrow or blocked. The carotid arteries are located on each side of your neck and they supply blood to your brain. When you have cardiovascular disease, these vessels can be affected in the same way as the coronary arteries and it can cause serious complications.

The stenosis develops when plaque builds up on the lining of the arteries. Fatty material and cholesterol accumulates on the artery walls, becomes thick and hardens. As the build up grows larger, the flow of blood through the artery is blocked. Some of the causes of the plaque that leads to carotid stenosis include: diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, heart disease, kidney disease and a family history of stroke. Two rare conditions can cause abnormal growth of the cells in the carotid arteries that leads to blockage. These are fibromuscular dysplasia and Marfan syndrome.


During the early stages of stenosis, you probably won't experience symptoms. Only when the blockage becomes so severe that it interferes with normal blood flow will symptoms appear. You may begin to experience transient ischemic attacks. These kind of attack occurs when there is a problem with blood flow to the brain and a temporary decrease in brain function results. The symptoms are similar to those of a stroke except they only last for a couple of hours. The stenosis can result in a real stroke as well. The symptoms you may experience consist of: confusion, memory loss, loss of sensations, blurry vision, problems speaking and weakness over part of the body.


When you have carotid stenosis, your doctor can hear a distinctive sound, called a bruit, when he places a stethoscope over the arteries in your neck. Imaging tests like a magnetic resonance angiography or computerized tomographic angiography can be used to scan the vessels in your neck to locate the blockages.

In addition, an ultrasound of the carotid arteries called a carotid duplex, or carotid doppler, can help your doctor determine how well the blood is flowing through your arteries.


If you are experiencing a few symptoms or none, your doctor may advise waiting and watch approach to your stenosis. During this time you will try to reduce the amount of plaque build up through dietary and lifestyle changes. When carotid stenosis is advanced, a surgical procedure called a carotid endarterectomy is sometimes indicated. With this procedure, a surgeon opens your carotid artery, removes the plaque, and then stitches the artery closed again, thereby removing the obstruction.

A less invasive surgery is angioplasty and stenting. With this, the surgeon makes an incision on your upper thigh and inserts a long flexible tube into the artery and threads it up to the obstruction in your carotid artery. A balloon is then blown up to press against the artery and widen it. A stent is then inserted that will hold the artery in an open position.


You can help prevent carotid stenosis by reducing the amount of circulating fat and cholesterol in your blood.

You should monitor your cardiovascular health by checking your blood pressure and cholesterol levels frequently, in addition to eating healthy and exercising regularly.


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