Carotid artery disease is a heart-related condition in which a combination of cholesterol and a waxy, fatty substance called plaque build up in the carotid arteries. These two large vessels, located on either side of the neck, supply oxygenated blood to a portion of the brain. The buildup narrows the carotid arteries, leading to serious symptoms and complications. You may also hear this condition called atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries.
Stroke is the primary danger stemming from carotid artery disease. Limited blood flow to the brain can cause this grave complication, which often leads to permanent brain damage. Stroke is not only the fifth leading cause of death in the United States, but also the leading preventable cause of disability. Stroke is caused when blood flow to the brain is completely blocked for more than three minutes. A transient ischemic attack (TIA), which occurs when blood flow is limited or blocked for fewer than three minutes, causes similar symptoms.
Carotid artery disease is especially dangerous because a stroke or TIA is usually the first sign of an issue. For that reason, you should be aware of stroke symptoms. Seek immediate medical attention if you or a loved one has blurred vision or vision loss, weakness, drooping or tingling in one side of the body, trouble walking, sudden confusion or disorientation, sudden severe headache or trouble swallowing. Prompt stroke treatment can often limit the extent of brain damage.
As with other types of heart disease, carotid artery disease has both preventable and non-preventable risk factors. The former category includes things like age, gender, ethnicity and family history. The risk factors you can avoid include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, a diet high in saturated fat and a sedentary lifestyle. Those with diabetes or insulin resistance and coronary artery disease are also at higher risk for developing this condition.
Regular doctor visits can help detect carotid artery disease before a stroke or TIA occurs. At Peripheral Vascular Associates, our physician can listen to your neck for an abnormal sound that could indicate hardening of the arteries. Other diagnostic imaging tests may include a carotid ultrasound, magnetic resonance angiography, computerized tomography angiography and cerebral angiography.
In a lot of cases, carotid artery disease can be treated with lifestyle changes. These typically include smoking cessation, resolution of high blood pressure and high cholesterol, a heart-healthy diet, obtaining a healthy weight, limiting alcohol consumption and exercising for at least 30 minutes on most days of the week.
In other cases, further treatment may be necessary. This may include procedures called carotid endarterectomy or carotid artery angioplasty. During a consultation at one of our many Texas locations, you can get more information about our treatment options for carotid artery disease. Peripheral Vascular Associates happily serves the following locations: San Antonio, Boerne, Corpus Christi, Del Rio, Floresville, Hondo, Jourdanton, New Braunfels and Uvalde. Contact us today to schedule your appointment to learn more.