While many of us are concerned about the dangers of stroke, we aren’t often focused on its most typical cause. Often, carotid artery disease goes undiagnosed before an initial stroke or transient ischemic attack (or TIA). Today, we’re going to be demystifying carotid artery disease, including signs and symptoms and treatment options.
Carotid artery stenosis is one of the more common causes of carotid artery disease. The carotid artery is a large artery on either side of the neck. It’s crucial in bringing oxygenated blood to the brain. Like other arteries, the carotid can become blocked by fatty plaque, disrupting that blood flow.
In carotid artery stenosis, fatty plaque blocks either or both of the carotid arteries in the neck. Without proper care, these blockages can worsen over time, leading to a TIA, stroke, or even death.
In its early stages, carotid artery stenosis doesn’t often have symptoms. The condition may not be obvious until it is serious enough to deprive blood to the brain, triggering a stroke or TIA.
Stroke symptoms to be aware of include:
If you see any of the symptoms of a stroke, you should seek emergency care. Even if they last only a short while and you feel better later, see a healthcare provider right away. In cases like those, that may be a TIA, which puts you at higher risk for a stroke.
Talk to your health care provider if you have risk factors for carotid artery disease, even if you don't have symptoms. Managing the risk factors might protect you from a stroke. Seeing a provider early increases your chances of finding carotid artery disease and getting treatment before a stroke occurs.
Carotid artery disease is estimated to be the cause of 10 to 15% of all strokes. Getting carotid artery disease diagnosed and treated as early as possible can help reduce this risk.
This is especially true if you have risk factors to make it more likely you’ll struggle with carotid artery disease. High blood pressure weakens arterial walls generally (including the carotid), making them easier to damage. Smoking also increases blood pressure and heart rate, as well as nicotine irritates the inner lining of the arteries.
If you struggle with diabetes, high blood-fat levels, sleep apnea, or obesity, these can increase your risk of carotid artery disease. These can be further exacerbated by a lack of exercise.
If you have a family history of stroke, atherosclerosis, or coronary artery disease, you may also have a higher risk. Talk to your healthcare provider and give them this information to help come up with the best treatment plan for you.
While it’s often impossible to spot carotid artery disease, there are several ways to help prevent it from developing to that point.
Smoking regularly increases the risk of stroke. Within a few years of quitting, a former smoker has the same risk of stroke as a nonsmoker. Just one more reason to consider quitting if you haven’t already.
Similarly, maintaining a healthy weight will improve your general quality of life beyond reducing the risk of carotid artery disease. This can also help treat high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and sleep apnea.
In addition to a healthy weight, a healthy diet can do wonders. Improve your carotid artery health by focusing on a diet of fruits and vegetables, whole grains and fish, nuts, and legumes. Limiting cholesterol and fat, especially saturated and trans fats, will also help reduce the risk of carotid artery blockage.
Salt consumption should be reduced to less than 1500 mg a day in healthy adults. More than that has been shown to increase blood pressure in some people. Alcohol consumption similarly should be restricted to one drink a day for women (two for men).
Diet can only improve so much without regular exercise. This increases the amount of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, commonly called “good” cholesterol, improving overall blood vessel and heart health. It also will help you lose weight, control diabetes, and reduce stress.
Now that you know more about carotid artery disease, you know the steps to get the best possible care. If you want the best vascular specialists in the region treating you, schedule an appointment at South Valley Vascular. They can recommend treatment options, including a carotid bruit, to best treat your carotid artery disease. Call or schedule your appointment today for more information.