Symptoms, Causes, and Risks of Carotid Artery Disease

carotid artery disease

Carotid artery disease occurs when the arteries become narrowed or blocked by a buildup of plaque (atherosclerosis). Too much plague (usually made up of fat), cholesterol calcium, and other substances, can cause a blockage. This condition is very serious as it can block blood flow to the brain, causing a stroke.

What are the symptoms of carotid artery disease?

Many people wonder, what are the symptoms of the disease to look out for? Unfortunately, in its early stages, carotid artery disease may not present symptoms. The disease may go undetected until it causes a stroke or transient ischemic attack (TIA).

Symptoms of TIA or stroke include

  • Sudden trouble speaking or understanding
  • Abrupt weakness or numbness (often on only one side of the body)
  • Sudden, intense headache with no known cause
  • Difficulty in seeing in one or both eyes
  • Sudden loss of balance or dizziness
  • Confusion or problems with memory

If you experience any of those symptoms, see a doctor immediately.

Causes of carotid artery disease

While the symptoms of the disease may not readily present themselves, there are certain risk factors to note. These include

  • Tobacco use: smoking can increase your heart rate and blood pressure which are also both risk factors for the disease. Nicotine can also irritate the inner lining of the artery, which can lead to the disease.
  • High blood pressure: Pressure on the artery walls can lead to them weakening.
  • High cholesterol
  • Genetics: family history may play a role in the disease. Make sure to tell your doctor if anyone in your family has or had carotid artery disease.
  • Diabetes: Diabetes can increase your risk of high blood pressure and atherosclerosis because it lowers your ability to process fats efficiently.
  • Age
  • Obesity: This can increase the chance of high blood pressure, diabetes, and atherosclerosis.


If you have any risk factors, it’s important to talk to your doctor. There are steps to take that can help prevent or delay this disease and stroke. These steps include lifestyle changes such as

  • Eat a healthy diet: Heart-healthy eating is an important part of a healthy lifestyle.
  • Physical activity: Try to improve your fitness levels and become more active.
  • Stop all tobacco use: If you’re having trouble, please visit NYS Smoke-Free.
  • Control high blood pressure and diabetes: Speak with your doctor about how to maintain healthy levels.
  • Know family history: Talk to your family members to find out if anyone experienced carotid artery disease so that you can inform your doctor at your next visit.

If you are worried you might be at risk for carotid artery disease, please speak with your doctor. For more information on treatment, visit our page here.

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