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Carotid Artery Disease

Carotid artery disease occurs when the major arteries in the neck become narrowed or blocked. These arteries supply blood from the heart to the brain. Carotid artery disease is a serious health problem because it can cause a stroke.

Blood Supply to the Brain

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Carotid artery disease is caused by the build-up of plaque along the lining of the arteries. This build-up is known as atherosclerosis. Plaque is made up of cholesterol, fat, and other substances.

Risk Factors

  • Family history of atherosclerosis
  • Coronary artery disease
  • Peripheral artery disease (PAD) disease of the arteries (usually in the legs) caused by fatty build-up
  • Age – men aged 75 or younger, women aged 75 years or older
  • Smoking
  • High blood pressure
  • Diabetes
  • High cholesterol
  • Obesity


There are usually no symptoms. Tell your doctor if you have symptoms of a stroke or a transient ischemic attack (TIA or mini-stroke). This is a warning sign that you may have carotid artery disease. Symptoms may include:

  • Blindness, blurry or dim vision
  • Weakness, numbness, or tingling of the face, arm, leg, or one side of the body
  • Difficulty speaking or understanding words
  • Dizziness, unsteadiness of gait, or falling
  • Trouble with balance or coordination
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Sudden confusion or loss of memory


Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. Your doctor will listen for irregular blood flow in the carotid arteries with a stethoscope. Tests may include:

  • Carotid ultrasonography – uses a device placed on the side of the neck to detect the narrow parts of the arteries
  • Computer tomography angiography (CTA) – uses computer enhanced X-ray images and a special liquid injected into the blood to examine blood flow through the arteries
  • Magnetic resonance angiography (MRA) – magnetic fields and a special liquid injected into the blood to make images of the arteries

Treatments Offered at the Center for Vascular and Endovascular Surgery

The following procedures are offered for the treatment of carotid artery disease when the arteries have severe plaque build-up:

  • Carotid Endarterectomy. During a carotid endarterectomy surgical procedure, the inner lining of the carotid artery is removed if it has become thickened or damaged. This procedure eliminates a substance called plaque from the artery and can restore blood flow.
  • Carotid Stenting. This type of procedure is a less invasive surgery in which a balloon is inserted into the artery to widen it. Then a metal mesh tube, called a stent, is inserted which expands the inside the carotid artery to increase blood flow in areas blocked by plaque.


To help reduce your chance of getting carotid artery disease, you will need to decrease the risk factors that you can control. For example, you can reduce your cholesterol, blood pressure and weight. Here are some steps to decrease these risk factors:

  • Exercise regularly.
  • Eat more fruits and vegetables . Limit dietary salt and fat.
  • Stop smoking.
  • If you drink alcohol, do so only in moderation. This means having no more than two drinks per day if you are a man, and no more than one drink per day if you are woman.
  • Maintain a healthy weight.
  • Keep your blood pressure in a safe range. Follow your doctor's recommendations if you have high blood pressure.
  • Keep other conditions under control. This includes high cholesterol and diabetes.

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Center for Vascular and Endovascular Surgery
St. Elizabeth's Medical Center
736 Cambridge Street
Brighton, MA 02135

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