The carotid artery is one of the major arteries in the body that supplies blood to the head and neck. There are two carotid arteries in the body, one on each side of the neck. These arteries are crucial because they supply the brain as well. However, they can get affected by diseases leading to different symptoms and complications. In this article, we are going to look into carotid artery disease (CAD).
What is carotid artery disease?
With carotid artery disease, one or both carotid arteries develop plaques in them. These plaques are fatty deposits that block the blood vessel and hinder the blood flow. These plaques develop slowly and can increase in size over time. The increasing size of fatty deposits keeps impeding the blood flow to the head and neck, eventually becoming low enough to start creating symptoms of the disease.
The causes of carotid artery disease
As mentioned, fatty deposits in the blood vessels cause CAD, and this process is known as atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis occurs when the blood cholesterol level is high, which is a relatively common problem. According to the CDC, 93 million adults over the age of 20 suffer from high cholesterol in the US. Other risk factors that are associated with this condition include the following.
- Uncontrolled high blood pressure
- History of smoking
- Uncontrolled diabetes
- Family history of carotid artery disease
- Inactive lifestyle
- Unhealthy diet
- Increasing age
What are the symptoms of CAD?
Carotid artery disease remains silent in the initial stages, and the symptoms typically appear when the blockage is severe. You should always be aware of risk factors and symptoms to ensure that your carotid arteries are healthy. The symptoms appear suddenly and can be life-threatening as well. They usually involve one side of the body, but the other side can also be affected. Common symptoms include:
- A sudden weakness on one or both sides of the face or body
- An unexpected feeling of numbness on one or both sides of the face or body
- Abrupt onset of the loss of vision in one or both eyes
- Sudden speech problems
- Understanding problems
- A feeling of dizziness
- A sudden loss of consciousness or balance
- Abrupt onset of severe headache
These symptoms can be of transient ischemic attack (TIA) or stroke, both caused by the insufficient blood supply due to the carotid artery disease. In the case of a transient ischemic attack (TIA), symptoms usually resolve within an hour and are completely gone within 24 hours. However, stroke symptoms stay for over 24 hours.
How can you prevent CAD?
Addressing risk factors and adopting a healthy lifestyle can help prevent carotid artery disease. High cholesterol is the primary cause of atherosclerosis that leads to carotid artery blockage, so maintaining a normal cholesterol level can help. You should eat healthy, exercise, shed extra weight, and quit smoking. Moreover, if you have any other disease, such as diabetes or hypertension, it should be well-controlled.
If you have a family history of CAD, you should get your blood cholesterol level tested regularly. Always speak to your doctor about concerns, family history of the disease, and current symptoms.