The carotid arteries are the two main arteries that take oxygen-rich blood from your heart to your brain. Carotid Artery Disease occurs when plaque, a sticky substance made up mostly of fat and cholesterol, builds up and adheres to the vessel walls. The plaque build-up causes the blood flow to become restricted and in some cases completely obstructed. The result of the restricted blood flow can cause a multitude of symptoms, with the worst outcome being stroke and/or death.
A stroke can be devastating not only to the victim but also to the family and friends. If left untreated, carotid artery disease may lead to stroke. One year after having a stroke, two-thirds of survivors are left with significant permanent deficits, such as paralysis of an arm and/or leg, inability to speak, or blindness in an eye. Stroke is the third leading cause of death in the United States.
Many patients will experience a "mini-stroke," or transient ischemic attack (TIA), as the first sign of carotid artery disease. In a TIA, the symptoms are exactly the same as a stroke but resolve usually within minutes to a few hours. If you have experienced a TIA you should seek immediate medical attention. Very often however, the first sign of carotid artery disease is a permanent stroke. This is why if you have specific risk factors it is so important to be screened for carotid disease.
If you experience any of these symptoms of stroke, call 911 immediately!
Depending on the severity of your condition, treatment options may include lifestyle changes, medication, or a surgical procedure such as minimally invasive carotid stenting or open carotid endarterectomy. The vast majority of patients who are diagnosed with carotid artery disease through an ultrasound before symptoms develop can be managed with medication and/or risk factor management.
If you have more than one risk factor, start working on the one you are most ready to change. Keep changes simple and be sure to include friends and family to support you, add fun activities, and enjoy good healthy foods to guarantee success! Remember that many conditions are improved and your risk is lowered when you quit using tobacco. Check with your insurance provider to see what assistance they provide for smoking cessation.
St.Vincent is concerned about your health. If you do not have a Primary Care physician and would like to find one in your area, please call 317-356-CARE (2273).