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Carotid Artery Disease

The carotid arteries are the main blood vessels that carry blood and oxygen to the brain. When these arteries become narrowed, it's called carotid artery disease or carotid artery stenosis. The narrowing is caused by atherosclerosis.

Carotid artery disease reduces the flow of oxygen to the brain and even a brief pause in blood supply can cause problems. If the narrowing of the carotid arteries becomes severe enough that blood flow is blocked, or a piece of plaque breaks off, it can cause a stroke.

What causes carotid artery disease?

Atherosclerosis causes most carotid artery disease This is the buildup of fatty substances, calcium, and other waste products inside the artery lining forming plaque. The thickening narrows the arteries and decreases blood flow or completely blocks the flow of blood to the brain.

Risk factors associated with atherosclerosis include:

  • Older age
  • Male
  • Family history
  • Race
  • Genetic factors
  • High cholesterol
  • High blood pressure
  • Smoking
  • Diabetes
  • Overweight
  • Diet high in saturated fat
  • Lack of exercise
Symptoms of a TIA or stroke may include:

  • Sudden weakness or clumsiness of an arm or leg on one side of the body
  • Sudden paralysis of an arm or leg on one side of the body
  • Loss of coordination or movement
  • Confusion, decreased ability to concentrate, dizziness, fainting, or headache
  • Numbness or loss of feeling in the face or in an arm or leg
  • Temporary loss of vision or blurred vision
  • Inability to speak clearly or slurred speech
If you or a loved one has any of these symptoms, call for medical help right away. A TIA may be a warning sign that a stroke is about to occur. But TIAs don't precede all strokes. The symptoms of a TIA and stroke are the same. A stroke is loss of blood flow (ischemia) to the brain that continues long enough to cause permanent brain damage. Brain cells start to die after just a few minutes without oxygen.

Click here to learn more about carotid artery disease is treated.