Carotid artery disease occurs when fatty deposits, called plaques, clog the blood vessels that deliver blood to the carotid arteries. The blockage increases the risk of stroke that occurs when the blood supply to the brain is interrupted or seriously reduced, deprives the brain of oxygen and the brain cells begin to die within minutes.
Carotid artery disease develops slowly. The first sign that the patient has the condition may be a stroke or transient ischemic attack (TIA), which is a temporary shortage of blood flow to the brain.
In its early stages, carotid artery disease often does not produce any signs or symptoms. The condition may go unnoticed until it is serious enough to deprive the brain of blood, causing a stroke or TIA. While the symptoms tend to resolve on their own in a few minutes, they may last up to 24 hours. They include:
- Sudden numbness or weakness in the face or limbs, often on only one side of the body;
- Sudden difficulties speaking;
- Sudden loss of vision in one or both eyes;
- Sudden dizziness or loss of balance;
- Sudden, severe headache with no known cause;
- Sudden confusion.
Carotid artery disease occurs as a result of damage to the inner lining of the artery that delivers blood to the brain. Clogged arteries have trouble delivering oxygen and nutrients to vital brain structures that are responsible for the day-to-day functioning. This gradual process, called atherosclerosis, is associated with smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, and poorly controlled diabetes. These all may cause minor damage to the inner walls of an artery, and during the healing process, inflammation may occur and plaque may begin to form.
Carotid artery disease causes about 10% to 20% of strokes that can leave the patient with permanent brain damage and muscle weakness. In severe cases, stroke can be fatal. Carotid artery disease can lead to stroke through:
- Reduced blood flow;
- Ruptured plaques;
- Blood clot blockage.
Factors that increase the risk of carotid artery disease include:
- Metabolic syndrome;
- High blood pressure;
- Tobacco use;
- High triglycerides levels;
- Low HDL levels
- Family history;
- Sleep apnea;
- Lack of exercise.
Prevention is the cornerstone for treating carotid artery disease. In order to minimalize the chances of this disease, each person that is at higher risk should:
- Living a healthy life-style;
- Quit smoking;
- Control the blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugars.