The carotid arteries provide the main blood supply to the brain. There carotid arteries are located on each side of your neck under the jawline.
Carotid artery disease is a condition in which these arteries become narrowed or blocked. When the arteries become narrowed, the condition is called carotid stenosis.
Carotid artery disease occurs when sticky, fatty substances called plaque build up in the inner lining of the arteries. See: Atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries)
The plaque may slowly block or narrow the carotid artery or cause a clot (thrombus) to form. Clots can lead to stroke.
Risk factors for blockage or narrowing of the arteries include:
- High blood pressure
- Heart disease
- High cholesterol
- Heavy alcohol use
- Kidney disease, especially when dialysis is needed
- Cocaine abuse
- Family history of stroke
- Increasing age
- Smoking is also a risk factor. Smoking increases the risk of most types of stroke. People who smoke one pack a day have over two times the risk of stroke compared to nonsmokers.
- Two uncommon conditions called Marfan syndrome and fibromuscular dysplasia (abnormal growth or development of the cells in the walls of carotid arteries) may also cause narrowing of the carotid arteries.
Treatment options include:
- No treatment, other than checking your carotid artery with tests every year
- Medicine and diet to lower your cholesterol and control your blood pressure
- Blood-thinning medicines to lower your risk of stroke; some of these medicines are aspirin, clopidogrel (Plavix), and warfarin (Coumadin)
- Surgery, called carotid endarterectomy, to remove the buildup in your carotid arteries may help prevent new strokes from occurring in persons with large blockages in their neck arteries. See: Carotid artery surgery