Carotid Artery Disease

What is Carotid Artery Disease?

Carotid artery disease develops when plaque, or fatty deposits build up and clog blood vessels that supply oxygen to the brain. These blood vessels are called the carotid arteries. Over time, this buildup slowly cuts off oxygen supply to the brain and can lead to a stroke.

This disease develops slowly so many patients are not aware that they even have the disease. The first sign of the disease is usually a stroke or transient ischemic attack.

What are the Symptoms of Carotid Artery Disease?

The early stages of this disease usually does not produce any symptoms. It is usually not a noticed condition unless the patient has a stroke or transient ischemic attack (TIA).

Symptoms of TIA or stroke

  • Difficulty speaking that comes on suddenly. This usually has a sudden onset.
  • Difficulty seeing with no explained reason. Usually has a sudden onset.
  • Dizziness
  • Numbness or weakness that comes on suddenly. This may affect the face, head or limbs on one side of the body. It is more common to experience symptoms on one side of the body and not on both.
  • Loss of balance.
  • Severe headache that comes on suddenly.

Carotid Artery Disease Causes

Carotid Artery Disease is a leading cause of stroke and other brain related injuries and diseases. More than half of all strokes in the United States are caused by this disease. There are several leading causes of Carotid Artery Disease, but most of those causes stem from a larger condition called atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis is a condition where a substance called plaque builds up on the walls of the carotid artery, narrowing the channel through which blood flows to the brain. The impinged blood flow leads to less oxygen getting to the brain, which causes the stroke and can lead to permanent brain damage or death. Some of the factors that lead to the formation of plaque on the arterial walls are high cholesterol, fat, a build up of proteins or calcium and other cellular waste.

How is Carotid Artery Disease Treated?

Treatment for carotid artery disease involves preventing a stroke, or preventing another stroke. The treatment chosen depends on the type of blockage and the severity of the blockage in the carotid arteries.

Mild to moderate blockage treatment

If the blockage is mild to moderate, your doctor may recommend one or more of the following:

Lifestyle changes

Quitting smoking, eating healthy, and exercising regularly can go a long way in preventing additional plaque buildup in your arteries.


Taking blood thinners on a regular basis will allow the blood to pass through a smaller space and reach its destination. Your doctor may also recommend a medication and lifestyle that helps to lower your cholesterol, which will also prevent further plaque buildup in your arteries.

Moderate or severe blockage treatment

If the blockage is high moderate or severe, your doctor may need to perform surgery. The purpose of this surgery is to remove the blockage or place stents in the artery to widen the arteries. This will allow blood to pass through easier and more effectively than before.

Carotid Artery Disease Prevention

Prevention of Carotid Artery Disease is centered on the patient choosing a healthy lifestyle. Smoking is a key cause, so not engaging either by never starting or ceasing smoking is a major prevention. A healthy diet, including a balance of fruit, vegetables, fiber, healthy fats and lean proteins is also a significant way to reduce incidence of arterial disease. High blood pressure weakens the walls of the blood vessels and allows for the buildup of plaque, so controlling hypertension is also preventative, either through lifestyle, medication or a combination of both. Maintaining a healthy weight, through a balance of a heart-healthy diet and regular exercise can also prevent the onset of the disease. Controlling medical conditions like diabetes are also critical in the prevention of Carotid Artery Disease. A daily dose of aspirin as a prophylactic regimen can also prevent the creation and build up of plaque, as well as reduce the risk of other heart-related issues.

Last Reviewed:
September 18, 2016
Last Updated:
November 29, 2017