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Also called carotid stenosis or carotid artery disease, carotid artery stenosis occurs when the arteries in the neck become clogged with plaque, which is made up of cholesterol, calcium, protein, and other substances. When this happens, the arteries become narrow and can reduce or block blood flow to the brain.
Carotid artery stenosis can cause serious, life-threatening complications, including stroke. Turn to Dignity Health Neurological Institute of Northern California for the latest care for any neurovascular condition, including carotid stenosis, in Sacramento and the surrounding areas. Make an appointment with our experienced team of neurologists and other specialists — call 1.888.800.7688 for a doctor referral today.
There are often no symptoms of carotid artery stenosis until the condition becomes serious enough to cause a stroke or mini stroke, called a transient ischemic attack (TIA). Then, signs and symptoms can include:
Before serious symptoms arise, your doctor at Dignity Health can also use a stethoscope to listen to the carotid arteries during a physical exam and discover reduced blood flow.
If you experience symptoms of stroke, call 911 immediately for emergency care.
The cause of carotid artery stenosis is atherosclerosis (the buildup of plaque) in the two large arteries of the neck. The carotid arteries become stiff and narrower than normal, which blocks the flow of freshly oxygenated blood to the brain.
The brain can still get enough blood if plaque buildup affects one artery more than the other. But, this can delay a diagnosis of carotid artery stenosis. As the atherosclerosis progresses, little to no oxygen gets to the head. As a result, brain tissue starts dying (cerebral atrophy), and signs and symptoms of stroke or mini stroke can occur. The severity of the symptoms depends on how widespread the damage is to the brain.
Atherosclerosis has several risk factors, including:
There are many strategies for treatment and prevention. Adopting a healthy lifestyle by quitting smoking, eating well, exercising, and controlling other health conditions, can delay or prevent carotid artery stenosis.
If the blockage in the arteries is severe, a carotid endarterectomy is a common treatment option. Performed by one of our skilled neurosurgeons, this surgery removes plaque in the carotid arteries. The surgeon will repair the affected artery with stitches or a graft.
Carotid angioplasty and stenting may be an option if a carotid endarterectomy isn’t possible. During this procedure, a catheter directs a tiny balloon to the blockage. The balloon widens the artery, and then a wire mesh coil, called a stent, is inserted to keep the artery open.