If left untreated, carotid artery stenosis can lead to a stroke or other serious complications. Learn more about the signs and risks of the condition.
The two main arteries that carry blood from your heart, up through your neck, and to your brain are called the carotid arteries. When they are healthy, these arteries allow blood to flow freely to your brain. This blood provides your brain cells with the oxygen, glucose, and other nutrients they need.
Unfortunately, the carotid arteries can experience a buildup of plaque — a sticky substance mostly made up of cholesterol and fat. This buildup narrows the passageways in the arteries and makes them stiff, causing carotid artery stenosis. This condition can have serious consequences, such as a stroke or transient ischemic attack (TIA), if left untreated.
Causes and Symptoms of Carotid Artery Stenosis
The buildup of plaque that leads to carotid artery stenosis is often simply a result of age. Through a process called atherosclerosis, plaque gathers at microscopic injury sites within your arteries as you get older. When the arteries become clogged, they have trouble delivering oxygen and vital nutrients to the brain structures that are responsible for your day-to-day functioning.
While the main cause of carotid artery stenosis is age, there are some additional factors that can increase your risk. These include:
- Tobacco use
- High blood pressure
- High levels of blood-fat
- Sleep apnea
- Lack of exercise
- A family history of the condition
Carotid artery stenosis typically develops slowly and without any clear, visible symptoms in its early stages. Unfortunately, the first indication that you have the disease may only appear when it has already become serious enough to cause a stroke or TIA, both of which occur due to a lack of blood flow to the brain.
Risks of Carotid Artery Stenosis
If left untreated, carotid artery stenosis can lead to a stroke. Depending on its severity, that stroke could result in major disability or even death.
There are several ways that carotid artery stenosis can cause a stroke. A stroke may simply be due to reduced blood flow to the brain. It can also result from plaque rupturing and the small pieces flowing into one of the smaller arteries, where they may get stuck and cut off blood supply to part of your brain. Finally, your body might treat the plaque buildup like an injury, sending blood cells to clot the area. Though this is intended to “heal” the vein, the result is a potentially dangerous blood clot.
Given the risks of untreated carotid artery stenosis, it is critical that you seek out medical help immediately if you experience any signs of a stroke, no matter how briefly these symptoms last. Seeing a doctor early increases the chances of the condition being discovered and treated before a disabling stroke occurs.
Treating Carotid Artery Stenosis
Depending on the severity of your carotid artery blockage, your treatment options can vary from medications and lifestyle changes to a more comprehensive surgical intervention.
Lifestyle changes that can prevent or slow the progression of carotid artery stenosis include:
- Not smoking
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Limiting fat and cholesterol, which can directly reduce the buildup of plaque in your arteries
- Eating more fruits and vegetables
- Limiting your salt intake
- Exercising regularly
- Limiting your alcohol intake
- Controlling chronic conditions like high blood pressure and diabetes that can increase your risk
If your artery blockage is more severe, your treatment may involve more intensive intervention through carotid artery stenting or a carotid endarterectomy.
If you have any concerns about carotid artery stenosis, you should reach out to your doctor as soon as possible. Fortunately, early diagnosis and treatment can save you from serious health complications.
At Siragusa Vein and Laser Center, our vein professionals are prepared to provide you with the best treatment options available based on your unique circumstances. With Siragusa, you can find high quality treatment for your vein and cardiovascular concerns so that you can get back to your active lifestyle.