What is Carotid Disease?

The carotid arteries are the large arteries in the front sides of the neck that bring oxygen to the brain.

Atherosclerosis, also known as hardening of the arteries, is a disease where plaque made up of calcium, cholesterol, fat and other substances builds up on the inside of the artery wall and narrows it so that the artery cannot deliver the normal amount of blood to the tissues.

When atherosclerosis occurs in the carotid arteries, the brain is deprived of oxygen and stroke or pre-stroke symptoms can occur. This is known as carotid disease, or carotid stenosis.

Atherosclerosis disease – plague blocking blood flow

Initial Treatment of Carotid Disease

The initial treatment of carotid disease is the same as treatment for any blood vessels with atherosclerosis. A diet low in fat, calories and refined sugar will reduce plaque in the arteries. Control of blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol is an important part of controlling atherosclerosis.

Maintaining a healthy weight and an active life assist in maintaining healthy carotid arteries. Finally, and very importantly, cigarette smoking is associated with carotid disease and stroke. It is imperative to be a non-smoker.

When these preventive measures are undertaken and optimized, carotid disease is reduced. However, in some cases, patients still can develop blockages in the carotid arteries which can lead to stroke.

How is Carotid Stenosis Diagnosed?

Carotid Doppler, also known as carotid ultrasound or carotid duplex, is a non-invasive method of diagnosing carotid stenosis. It is painless and may be repeated as often as necessary.

Carotid stenosis can sometimes be diagnosed by listening through a stethoscope and hearing an abnormal sound in the carotid artery.

Angiography (an X-ray procedure involving the injection of dye into the artery), ultrasound of the artery, or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of the head may reveal carotid stenosis.

Additionally, sometimes tiny blood clots can be seen in the eye’s blood vessels.

What are the Treatment Options?

Severe carotid stenosis is often treated with surgery. Learn more on our Treatment of Carotid Disease page.

Additional information and support can be found on the American Stroke Association website: www.strokeassociation.org.