The carotid arteries are the main arteries in your neck that supply blood to your brain. A substance called plaque accumulates inside your arteries as you age. If too much plaque builds up in your carotid artery, it can cause the artery to narrow (carotid stenosis). Small clots can form, then break off and travel to the brain, causing a minor or major stroke.
Your risk increases as you age, and is heightened if you have a history of smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes or heart disease.
- May be absent: Most people with carotid artery disease, even with severe blockage, experience no symptoms. The condition is found in a routine physical or ophthalmological examination, or is found following a stroke.
- In rare cases carotid artery disease may cause ringing in the ears or fainting due to decreased blood flow to the brain. Neck pain is not a symptom of carotid artery disease.
- The first signs of carotid artery disease may be a stroke, mini-stroke or TIA symptoms, such as weakness or numbness on one side of your body. You may also experience slurred speech or facial drooping.
- Medication can help slow the progression of carotid artery disease. Aspirin, and medications that lower your cholesterol and blood pressure are commonly prescribed when the degree of narrowing is less than 50-60%. Medications may need to be adjusted as the disease progresses.
- Smoking cessation.
- Surgery may be recommended. If the degree of narrowing is more than 60%, in addition to medication you may benefit from a carotid endarterectomy or carotid angioplasty and stenting.