What’s the Link between Carotid Artery Disease and Stroke?

What’s the Link between Carotid Artery Disease and Stroke?

Carotid artery disease (CAD) and stroke are both vascular diseases, and there is an association between them. Looking at the numbers: Carotid artery disease (CAD) and stroke are major vascular disorders that affect millions of people worldwide. Additionally, cerebrovascular accident (CVA) or stroke is the second leading cause of death worldwide. According to the world health organization (WHO), stroke affects 15 million people worldwide annually. This blog takes a look at how these two are linked.

Carotid Artery Disease (CAD) and Stroke

In most vascular diseases, the blood vessels are narrowed due to plaque build-up over time. This plaque hinders the blood flow through the vessels. This process can lead to decreased oxygen supply to the organs. Plaque is also a source of blood clot formation that can also break off and go to other blood vessels with the blood flow. Also, plaque formation can decrease the compliance of the blood vessels leading to increased blood pressure.

Blood is supplied to the brain through two types of arteries – carotid arteries and vertebral arteries. Therefore, carotid arteries have a significant role in providing blood to the brain, and any carotid disease can interfere with the brain blood supply. Characterized by narrowing the carotid artery or arteries due to cholesterol deposits leading to plaque formation, CAD is a severe condition. 

With carotid artery disease (CAD), plaque in the carotid blood vessels can trigger thrombi or blood clot formation. These clots can break off and travel to the brain. Small blood vessels supplying the brain tissue can become blocked due to these clots leading to ischemia, i.e., decreased oxygen supply to the brain tissue. This leads to the damage called a stroke. Moreover, if the carotid arteries are narrowed to a great extent, the blood supply to the brain can be decreased greatly even without clot formation. This can also cause a stroke.

Prevention of Stroke in Carotid Artery Disease

Carotid artery disease (CAD) is silent most times. Your doctor may discover it on a routine examination which is quite unlikely. The only warning sign you can get is a mini-stroke or a transient ischemic attack (TIA), characterized by stroke-like symptoms that last for less than 24 hours and resolve on their own. These symptoms may include weakness, tingling, slurred speech, or a problem with vision. 

A mini-stroke requires extensive testing. Your physician can order more tests to confirm the diagnosis, such as duplex ultrasound. Duplex ultrasound shows the extent of blockage as well. Once the diagnosis is confirmed, the condition can be treated to prevent a life-threatening stroke. 
In the medical treatment of CAD, your doctor can order medications that prevent clot formation. However, the durable treatment is surgical. Carotid endarterectomy is a surgical procedure that opens and clears the blocked carotid artery or arteries. Your physician will assess your condition to decide the best treatment.

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