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Carotid artery disease

What is Carotid artery disease?

Your carotid arteries are a pair of blood vessels located inside the neck that deliver blood to your brain and head. Carotid artery disease results from the build-up of waxy deposits, called plaque, over the inner surface of the arteries. Plaque can gradually decrease or block the blood supply to the brain and may lead to stroke or transient ischemic attack (TIA), also known as ‘mini-stroke’, which occurs when a blood clot temporarily obstructs an artery that supplies blood to the brain.

Carotid artery disease is responsible for 20% − 30% of all strokes. The treatment of carotid artery disease may include a combination of lifestyle changes, medication and in some cases, surgery.

Stroke is the most common complication of carotid artery disease. A stroke can lead to:

  • Muscle weakness and paralysis
  • Permanent brain damage
  • Death

Causes

The causes of carotid artery disease include:

–  Modifiable causes

  • Obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol can increase the risk of carotid artery disease
  • Smoking, lack of exercise and an unhealthy diet

–  Non-modifiable causes

  • Women who are over 75 years old have a greater risk than men in the same age group. Men younger than 75 years old are more prone to developing carotid artery disease than women in the same age group
  • Family history of the disease
  • Those who suffer from coronary artery disease (hardening of the arteries supplying blood to the heart) are more prone to developing carotid artery disease

Treatment

Your doctor will evaluate your condition and discuss with you the range of treatment options suitable for you. These may include a combination of:

 –  Lifestyle changes:

  • Limit alcohol consumption
  • Maintain a healthy diet
  • Maintain control of your blood pressure, diabetes and other heart diseases
  • Quit smoking
  • Regular exercise

–  Medication to reduce the risk of stroke and other heart disease complications, as well as clot-dissolving medications

–  Surgery to unblock the artery and prevent future strokes

Figure A shows the location of the right carotid artery in the head and neck.

Figure B shows the inside of a normal carotid artery that has normal blood flow.

Figure C show the inside of a carotid artery that has plaque buildup and reduced blood flow.

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