The carotid arteries are two major blood vessels either side of the neck that supply blood to the brain, head and neck. The right carotid artery and the left carotid artery. These arteries are vital for delivering oxygen-rich blood to the brain, allowing it to function properly. Strokes happen when there is a reduced blood flow to a part of the brain. Strokes can be caused by many factors. One common cause is the narrowing or blockage of the carotid arteries. This condition is known as carotid artery stenosis or carotid artery disease.
How carotid artery disease leads to strokes
The most common cause of carotid artery disease is the build up of fatty deposits (plaque) on the inner walls of the arteries. Over time, this plaque can narrow these arteries and therefore reduce blood flow to the brain.
Sometimes, the plaque in the carotid arteries can break apart. When this happens, it can cause blood clots. These blood clots can then travel through the bloodstream until they get stuck in smaller blood vessels within the brain. This will block blood flow and may cause a stroke. This type of stroke is called an embolic stroke.
Even if there aren’t blood clots, narrowing of the carotid arteries can lead to reduced blood flow to the brain. If this blood flow is restricted, it can mean oxygen and nutrients may struggle to get to the brain cells. This may cause cell damage or death. This type of stroke is called an ischemic stroke.
When a stroke occurs due to carotid artery stenosis, the symptoms can vary. Symptoms may include sudden weakness or numbness on one side of the body, the person may have trouble with their speech or vision. Severe headaches and a loss of coordination may happen too. Following on from this, urgent medical help is vital if stroke symptoms are present.
Your vascular surgeon is an expert on carotid artery stenosis. To help prevent strokes caused by carotid artery stenosis, they may recommend lifestyle changes and medicines to manage risk factors. Risk factors include high blood pressure and high cholesterol. In some cases, surgery such as carotid endarterectomy to remove plaque or widen the narrowed artery or arteries will be needed.
Regular check-ups and monitoring by your vascular surgeon can help manage carotid artery disease and the risk of stroke. This may also include having regular ultrasound scans.
Seek medical help straight away if you suspect you or someone else is having a stroke, because quick intervention can help reduce brain damage for better outcomes.