Carotid Artery Disease
Carotid artery disease occurs when the major arteries in your neck become narrowed or blocked. These arteries, called the carotid arteries, supply your brain with blood. The two carotid arteries, one on each side of the neck, are the main blood supply to the brain. Each carotid artery extends upward from the aorta in the chest and into the base of the skull to enter the brain. Approximately 25 percent of strokes are caused by carotid artery disease from atherosclerosis, a buildup of plaque in the arteries that carry blood to the brain. Eventually, the artery narrows, blood flow is decreased, and the risk of stroke is increased. The patient may experience symptoms such as blurred vision, slurred speech, or weakness, which are all signs of stroke. By removing the fat and cholesterol build-up inside the artery, adequate blood flow is restored, which can help prevent a stroke. Blockages of carotid arteries in the neck are responsible for more than half of all strokes.
As people age, arterial plaque made up of cholesterol, other lipids, calcium, and fibrous tissue can build up in the walls of their arteries. As the plaque deposits enlarge, the arteries become narrow and stiffened, a process known as atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries. When enough plaque has accumulated to interfere with blood flow in the main arteries to the brain, a person is said to have severe carotid artery disease. Eventually the narrowing can become severe enough to interfere with blood flow and a complete blockage that stops all blood flow through the carotid artery can follow.
The atherosclerosis disease begins with partial but progressive blockage or narrowing of arteries and tends to develop later in life. Fewer than 1 percent of adults in their 50s have significant narrowing of their carotid arteries. But 10 percent of adults in their 80s have extensive narrowing. Patients are at increased risk for developing carotid artery disease and stroke if they have a general tendency to have atherosclerosis, commonly in the form of coronary artery disease, or have a family history of heart disease or stroke.