Carotid Artery Disease & Stroke

What is Carotid Artery Disease?

The large arteries that supply most of the blood to the brain are called the carotid arteries. They are located on the right and left side of your neck. Carotid artery disease occurs when these arteries become narrowed or blocked due to plaque build-up (atherosclerosis) or a blood clot.

Carotid artery disease increases your risk for stroke. If you have carotid artery disease you probably have advanced coronary artery disease as well.

3 ways Carotid Artery Disease increases your risk for Stroke:

  1. Fatty deposits (cholesterol) that have accumulated in the artery wall severely narrow the carotid arteries, reducing blood flow to the brain.
  2. A blood clot becomes wedged in a carotid artery that has narrowed because of atherosclerosis, causing reduced blood flow and stroke.
  3. Plaque breaks off or ruptures from the carotid arteries.  It travels to a smaller artery in the brain where it cuts off the blood supply to a portion of the brain.

Stroke is the 4th leading cause of death in the U.S. and up to 80% can be prevented.

What is a Stroke?

Stroke is a sudden loss of blood supply to a part of the brain caused by a blockage or rupture of a blood vessel. When a stroke occurs, brain cells are killed damaging the affected area of the brain so it cannot function properly.  

Strokes can have a profound impact on the central nervous system and the musculo-skeletal system, affecting how a person thinks, speaks, sees, and moves. After a stroke, it may be more difficult to take care of yourself or perform adequately at your job or vocation. Many victims of stroke can recover some or all of their skills with speech and physical therapy.

A mild stroke may be a precursor of a more serious and damaging one. Often people experience what is known as T.I.A. or Transient Ischemic Attack. These attacks can occur before a major stroke and should be treated to attempt to prevent a stroke.

Approximately one person dies every 3.1 minutes from stroke. They cause death or disability in over 60% of all cases.

Call 911 if you have any of these warning signs:

  • Facial numbness or drooping
  • Loss of muscle function on one side of your body
  • Weakness or numbness in arms or legs
  • Impaired vision; loss of some or all of your sight in one or both eyes or double vision
  • Severe headache for no apparent reason
  • Sudden dizziness
  • Sudden fall
  • Confusion
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Loss of bowel or bladder control

Do not ignore the signs of a stroke. Even if you feel better in a few minutes, you may have had a T.I.A. (Transient Ischemic Attack) or mini-stroke. T.I.A. may put you at risk for a larger full blown stroke. Without treatment, nearly 50 percent of people who experience a T.I.A. will have a stroke within 5 years.

Who is affected by a Stroke?

  •  Adults over the age of 40 are most likely to have a stroke. Younger adults and children can also fall victim but with less frequency.
  • About the same amount of adult males and females statistically have strokes.
  • All races are at risk for stroke.  African Americans are almost twice as likely to die from a stroke than Caucasians.  If they survive, they often have more severe damage.
  • People with heart disease, carotid artery disease and high blood pressure are at increased risk for a stroke.

What is the cause of a Stroke?

Atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) or high blood pressure, in most cases, may be the cause of a stroke. These may result in the following: 

  • Cerebral hemorrhage, a vessel ruptures and bleeds into the brain, damaging surrounding brain tissue.
  • Embolism, a blood clot from another part of the body or a piece of cholesterol from the wall of the diseased artery breaks away and blocks a blood vessel or artery in the brain.
  • Thrombosis, a blood vessel or artery that narrows severely or completely, decreasing blood flow to the brain.
  • However, there are other factors that could lead to a stroke, such as an un-diagnosed hole in the heart.

How can you lower your risk of Carotid Artery Disease & Stroke?

  • Control your blood pressure. High blood pressure contributes greatly to your chances of having a stroke. 1 out of 3 people with high blood pressure do not even know they have it. Get your blood pressure checked often!
  • If you smoke - STOP! Smoking can cause blood clots as well as increase your blood pressure. Seek help from your doctor, pharmacist or nurse about ways to quit. We know it is not always easy, but if you try to stay with a program, you can do it!
  • Speak to one of our health advisors on ways to quit.
  • If you have diabetes, control it. Diabetes can damage blood vessels in the brain and increase your risk of a stroke. Follow your doctor's advice!
  • Exercise daily. Exercise makes your heart more efficient and improves blood flow. It can also help you control your weight. 
  • Reduce your stress level.

Your risk increases with:

  • Family history of stroke
  • Coronary artery disease
  • Obesity
  • High fat, high sodium diet
  • Excess alcohol consumption

What else do we screen for?  Learn more.