Carotid Artery Disease

Your Care Explained > Conditions and Diagnoses : Carotid Artery Disease

A buildup of atherosclerosis in the carotid arteries can impair blood flow to the brain, increasing the risk of stroke.

Carotid artery disease tends to appear later in life in women than in men. Historically, women who have no other symptoms of disease are less likely to benefit from surgery than are men.

Causes of Carotid Artery Disease

The factors that increase the risk of cardiovascular disease also contribute to carotid artery disease. They include:

Enlarge this Image image

Symptoms of Carotid Artery Disease

A transient ischemic attack (TIA) is usually the first sign of carotid artery disease. TIAs, or warning strokes, may include:

These symptoms usually last only a few minutes and do not have lasting effects.

Diagnosing Carotid Artery Disease

One of the warning signs described above is usually the first hint of carotid artery disease. However, doctors may often detect significant narrowings of the carotids during a physical exam, when they hear a bruit—the sound of turbulent blood flow—in the neck as they listen through a stethoscope. The location and extent of blockages in the arteries can be determined through duplex echocardiography or MRI.

Treating Carotid Artery Disease

When imaging indicates significantly narrowed carotid arteries, especially in patients who have had TIAs, carotid atherectomy or carotid angioplasty are often recommended to reduce the risk of stroke. Patients who have no symptoms may be treated with medication to improve lipids, reduce blood pressure and prevent clotting.

Nutrition and Prevention

Reference these links for information on how to prevent heart disease and how to live a healthy lifestyle.

Date Last Modified: January 21, 2011

Send Feedback To: BWH Women’s Health at bwhteleservices@partners.org

75 Francis Street, Boston, MA 02115 617.732.5500
harvard medical school partners healthcare © BWH 2011