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Carotid artery disease

Carotid artery disease is a form of disease that affects the vessels leading to the head and brain (cerebrovascular disease). Like the heart, the brain's cells need a constant supply of oxygen-rich blood. This blood supply is delivered to the brain by the 2 large carotid arteries in the front of your neck and by 2 smaller vertebral arteries at the back of your neck. The right and left

vertebral arteries come together at the base of the brain to form what is called the basilar artery. A stroke most often occurs when the carotid arteries become blocked and the brain does not get enough oxygen.

Carotid artery disease is the blockage or narrowing of the carotid arteries, the main source of blood flow from the heart to the brain. The carotid arteries can become blocked (occluded) or narrowed (stenosis) due to several different types of disease. The most common cause is atherosclerosis, a hardening or thickening of artery walls caused by plaque or fatty deposits. These deposits may prevent adequate blood flow into the brain, causing a variety of complications including stroke.

Carotid artery disease is caused by atherosclerosis, which is also called hardening of the arteries. Atherosclerosis is when fatty deposits and other things build up in an artery and form plaque. This plaque buildup is what narrows or blocks one or both carotid arteries. Plaque in the arteries also increases your chance of having dangerous blood clots. Blood clots can travel to different areas of the body and cause serious problems, such as a stroke.

Although there are no symptoms specific to carotid artery disease, the warning signs of a stroke are a good way to tell if there is a blockage in the carotid arteries. Transient ischemic attacks (TIAs) are one of the most important warning signs that you may soon have a stroke. Sometimes called "mini-strokes," TIAs are temporary episodes of headache, dizziness, tingling, numbness, blurred vision, confusion, or paralysis that can last anywhere from a few minutes to a couple of hours. See a doctor right away if you or someone you know has the symptoms of a TIA.

Carotid artery disease may not have symptoms. It is important for those at risk to have regular physical exams by their doctor. A doctor will listen to the arteries in your neck with a stethoscope. An abnormal rushing sound, called a bruit (BROO-ee) may indicate you have disease. Bruits are not always present when blockages are present and may be heard at times even with minor blockages.

A surgical procedure to remove the build-up of fatty deposits or plaque from the inside of the carotid arteries. Under general anesthesia, the neurosurgeon exposes and opens the carotid artery, meticulously removing the plaque and precisely closing the vessel by use of a microsurgical technique. A procedure involving the insertion of a micro catheter through the femoral artery that is threaded through the vascular system into the narrow stenosis of the carotid artery. Once in place an angioplasty balloon is inflated to widen the artery. The next step is the placement of the stent (a small flexible cylindrical mesh tube). Once in place the stent is expanded with the balloon on the tip of the catheter. The stent prevents blockage from reoccurring. During all the procedure the brain is protected from strokes due to the use of a filter that catches any debris resultant from the manipulation of the plaque (distal protection device).

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All information is intended for reference only. Please consult your physician for accurate medical advices and treatment. Copyright 2005,, all rights reserved. Last update: July 18, 2005