Carotid artery disease develops when the carotid arteries located in the front of the neck become blocked or narrow. These two arteries supply oxygen-rich blood to the part of the brain that controls movement, speech and sensation.
If the cells in this area of the brain are depleted of oxygen, they die, which results in permanent damage or stroke.
How do the Carotid Arteries Become Blocked?
When plaque, made up of scar tissue, cholesterol and other fatty substances, begins to build up on the inside of the artery walls, this is called atherosclerosis or "hardening of the arteries". Not only does this buildup narrow the artery passages and slow the flow of blood to the brain, pieces of plaque and/or blood clots sometimes break away from the artery walls and become lodged in the brain's smaller arteries.
This atherosclerotic process significantly increases the likelihood of stroke.
Most people with carotid artery disease (CAD) have no symptoms. Symptoms typically present themselves in the form of a transient ischemic attacks or mini strokes as they are called. During a transient ischemic attack (TIA), a person may experience temporary blindness, weakness in an arm or leg, dizziness, tingling sensations on the surface of the skin or numbness. These mini attacks (TIAs) rarely last more than 30 minutes, but people who have them are twice as likely as those who don't to have full-blown strokes.
The risk factors for CAD are the same as those for coronary artery disease. These include smoking, diets high in fat, sedentary lifestyles, and a strong family history of heart disease or stroke.
How is CAD Diagnosed?
CAD is usually diagnosed during routine physical exams. Doctors can often detect the disease with a stethoscope by listening for murmurs caused by blood rushing through a narrowed part of the neck. However, doctors may not always be able to hear these sounds, which are called bruits (pronounced brew-ee), even when the CAD is severe.
There are, therefore, several other tests for CAD. These include:
Why Come to the University of Maryland Medical Center for Treatment of Carotid Artery Disease?
The University of Maryland Department of Neurosurgery specializes in advanced therapies for stroke and vascular disorders. Our neurosurgeons develop comprehensive treatment plans using evaluative, surgical, and nonsurgical techniques and select the treatment options that best meet patients' needs.
Patients also benefit from their collaboration with other clinical specialties located at the University of Maryland Medical Center.