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The carotid arteries are located in the neck and serve the important function of supplying blood to the neck, head, and brain. There are two carotid arteries, one on each side of the neck. Carotid artery disease (CAD) occurs when fatty deposits, or plaque, builds up within the inner walls of these arteries leading to partial or complete blockages. CAD progresses slowly and can often go undiagnosed for a long period of time. The consequences can be life-threatening.
Some people are considered to have a higher risk of developing CAD than others. Unsurprisingly, many of these factors are the same as those that contribute to other forms of cardiovascular disease as well. They include:
The primary concern related to CAD is the risk of stroke. A stroke occurs when blood flow to the brain is interrupted. The severity of a stroke depends on the specific area of the brain affected and the number of brain cells impacted. There are two specific types of stroke which may result from CAD:
The first step in reaching a diagnosis of CAD is a physical examination by a cardiologist. The physician will assess for risk factors and use a stethoscope to listen to the carotid arteries. Following the exam, additional testing will be needed before a definitive diagnosis can be reached. Common diagnostic tests for CAD include:
If CAD is diagnosed but believed to be mild to moderate in nature, more conservative treatment methods may be used to prevent worsening of the condition. These can include quitting smoking, losing weight, eating a heart healthy diet, and exercising regularly. Additionally, a drug regimen of blood thinners or Aspirin may be prescribed. Follow-up care to monitor CAD will also be an imperative part of treatment.
For more severe cases of CAD or for those in which a TIA has already occurred, more aggressive treatment methods will be employed. Common procedures to address CAD include:
CIS physicians have pioneered the use of carotid angioplasty and stenting to treat carotid artery disease. Our physicians evaluate each patient on a case-by case basis to determine the best course of treatment.