Carotid artery stenosis is a serious medical condition. It involves narrowing of major blood vessels prevents oxygen-rich blood from reaching the brain.
It can lead to “mini-strokes,” strokes and even death. Mini-strokes and strokes are often the first sign that a person has carotid stenosis. Early diagnosis and treatment can prevent serious complications from carotid artery stenosis.
About Carotid Artery Stenosis
Two major arteries carry oxygen- and nutrient-rich blood from your heart to your brain. These two arteries are known as the carotid arteries. Your carotid artery begins in your chest and courses up through your neck to your head. You can feel your blood pulsing through your carotid arteries by placing your hands on either side of your neck.
Plaque can sometimes build up inside the carotid arteries. Doctors refer to this as atherosclerosis. Plaque buildup narrows the space inside the carotid arteries. This reduces the amount of blood flowing to your brain. Plaque accumulation can also allow blood clots to form. These clots can break off and travel to the brain to restrict blood flow even further.
Cells die when they don’t get oxygen. Doctors refer to this as ischemic stroke. The brain is a complex organ. Various parts of the brain control different body functions. When cells die, that part of the brain stops working.
Stroke is the fifth leading cause of death, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Stroke is also a major cause of disability in the United States. More than 795,000 Americans have a stroke each year. Stroke kills approximately 140,000 people in the nation annually.
About 87 percent of all strokes are ischemic strokes. An ischemic stroke happens when something blocks blood flow to the brain. About 10 percent of ischemic strokes are the result of carotid artery stenosis, according to the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. About 1 percent of people in the United States have asymptomatic carotid stenosis. This means they have the condition but do not have any symptoms.
What Are the First Symptoms of Carotid Artery Stenosis?
Carotid artery stenosis may be present for a long time before symptoms appear. In many cases, the first symptoms of carotid stenosis are transient ischemic attacks (TIAs). TIAs are like mini-strokes. Ischemic strokes and loss of vision in one eye may also be the first sign that someone has carotid stenosis.
What Are the Common Signs of Carotid Artery Stenosis?
Carotid artery stenosis does not typically cause symptoms until the artery becomes very narrow or a blood clot forms. Symptoms of a TIA are likely to appear first as the narrowed artery or clot temporarily interrupts the flow of blood to the brain. The symptoms of a TIA usually last for a couple of minutes before resolving completely. Because the symptoms don’t last long and go away fast, many people ignore them.
Signs of a stroke or TIA include:
- Weakness or numbness in an arm or leg
- Paralysis on one side of the body
- Difficulty speaking
- Memory problems
- Drooping on one side of the face
- Slurring my speech without alcohol
- Difficulty seeing suddenly
- Anyone experiencing these symptoms should call 911 right away
When to Treat Carotid Artery Stenosis
Doctors treat carotid artery stenosis when it is serious. Doctors use tests to diagnose carotid artery stenosis. They also use tests to determine its severity and suggest treatment.
Your doctor will record a detailed personal health history. He or she will perform a physical exam. Your physician will listen to your carotid artery for a swooshing sound. This sound may signal a narrowed artery. The doctor will also assess your strength, memory, and speech. Your doctor will check other physical and mental capabilities.
Your doctor may recommend tests. These tests include ultrasound to assess blood flow in the carotid arteries. Your doctor might order CT or MRI to look for evidence of stroke. The doctor might order CT angiography or MR angiography. Those tests create images of blood flow through the carotid artery.
Treatment for carotid artery stenosis focuses on reducing the risk of ischemic stroke by removing or controlling plaque buildup. It also focuses on preventing blood clots. Treatment for mild carotid stenosis includes quitting smoking and increasing exercise.
Vein treatments for more severe cases of carotid stenosis include carotid endarterectomy or carotid artery stenting. The surgeon opens the affected artery and removes the plaques.
Carotid artery stenting is for cases in while the plaques are difficult to reach or when carotid endarterectomy is too risky. It involves threading a flexible catheter tube into the blood vessel and inflating a balloon to widen the artery. The doctor then inserts a mesh stent to keep the artery from narrowing again.
How to Prevent Carotid Artery Stenosis
You can reduce your risk of developing carotid artery stenosis by:
- Stopping smoking
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Limiting fat and cholesterol
- Eating fruits and nuts, reducing salt intake
- Exercising regularly
- Limiting alcohol
For more information about carotid artery stenosis, and its prevention and treatments, contact Siragusa Vein & Laser. Meet our vein physician in Nashville by making an appointment today.