Carotid Artery Disease - Symptoms & Causes

What is carotid artery disease?

Your carotid arteries are a pair of blood vessels inside your neck that deliver blood to your brain and head. Carotid artery disease results from the build-up of waxy deposits, called plaques, over the inner surface of the arteries.

These plaques can eventually decrease or block the blood supply to your brain, and may lead to a stroke or transient ischemic attack (TIA), also known as “mini-stroke”. A “mini-stroke” occurs when a blood clot temporarily obstructs an artery that supplies blood to the brain.

Carotid artery disease is responsible for 20% – 30% of all strokes.

What are the symptoms of carotid artery disease?

Carotid artery disease may result in no symptoms. The build-up of the plaques can go unnoticed and may result in a TIA. If you experience a TIA, your chances of experiencing a stroke increase by tenfold.

The symptoms of a TIA are temporary (may last for a few minutes to a few hours), and they include any of the following:

  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Difficulty talking
  • Numbness, tingling or weakness on one side of the face or body, or in one arm or leg
  • Sudden dizziness or confusion
  • Sudden lack of coordination, balance and difficulty walking
  • Sudden loss of, or blurred vision
  • Sudden severe headache

It is crucial that you seek emergency help to receive immediate treatment in order to prevent the progression to a stroke.

What are the causes of carotid artery disease?

The causes of carotid artery disease include:

  • Modifiable causes
    • Conditions including obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol, which can increase the risk of carotid artery disease
    • Smoking, lack of exercise, and an unhealthy diet
  • Non-modifiable causes
    • Age (women who are over 75 years of age have a greater risk than men in the same age group, and men younger than 75 years of age are more prone to developing carotid artery disease than women in the same age group)
    • Family history of the disease
    • Those who suffer from coronary artery disease (hardening of the arteries supplying blood to the heart) are more prone to developing carotid artery disease

Stroke is the most common complication of carotid artery disease. A stroke can lead to:

  • Muscle weakness and paralysis
  • Permanent brain damage
  • Death
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