Carotid Stenosis 101

vascular health

Sudden loss of consciousness, transient loss of vision, slurred speech, or weakness in any part of your body always causes concern. These conditions may point toward a severe health condition, such as a stroke secondary to carotid stenosis. 

What is carotid stenosis?

Carotid arteries are two large arteries on both sides of your neck that supply oxygen and nutrients to your brain and your face. In healthy individuals, these arteries have a smooth contour, and their lumen is wide open.

Carotid artery stenosis is the blockage or narrowing of two or both carotid arteries, which consequently compromises your brain’s blood supply. This blockage could be due to anything obstructing your carotid arteries, such as plaque, which may narrow your arteries or break off and travel to smaller vessels clogging them.

What causes carotid stenosis? 

Formation of a plaque also referred to as atherosclerosis, is the most common cause implicated in carotid stenosis. A plaque is a piled-up stack of cholesterol, calcium, and fat that roughens the smooth lumen of the artery. This attracts platelets that pile over the plaque, eventually blocking the arteries. You might have a stroke when such plaques clog one of your carotids.

What are the risk factors for developing Carotid Stenosis?

A handful of lifestyle practices increase the chance of developing carotid stenosis.

  • Age: The chances of developing carotid artery diseases increase with age in both men as well as women.
  • Smoking: Smoking can potentially damage the lining of our blood vessels, causing plaque adhesion and stenosis.
  • High cholesterol and obesity: With obesity and high levels of cholesterol, chances of developing plaques increase as triglycerides and cholesterol pile up inside the lumen of the artery, clogging the vessel.
  • High blood pressure: Increased blood pressure is associated with carotid stenosis and can result in plaque formation. 
  • Diabetes. Having diabetes increases the chance of developing carotid stenosis.

How is this condition diagnosed?

A thorough medical history and examination are necessary, along with a few tests your doctor might suggest to diagnose this condition.

  • Carotid ultrasound. It helps detect any plaque and the extent of blockage in your carotid artery.
  • Computed tomography angiogram. A dye is injected into your bloodstream, and a CT scan is used to get a detailed view of your carotid arteries.
  • Cerebral angiography. This process gets a close view of your arteries using a small catheter passed to the carotids.

What is the treatment?

Your doctor may suggest lifestyle changes for mild stenosis, such as exercising and a balanced diet. Avoiding smoking and consuming oily foods might help slow down plaque formation.

In cases where the narrowing is greater than 50%, your doctor might recommend carotid endarterectomy, a procedure that involves removing the plaque through the skin. The surgery is performed under sedation, and you’re good to go within 48 hours.

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