Carotid Artery Disease
The carotid arteries are the pulsatile structures on either side of the neck which supply the preponderance of blood flow to the brain. Narrowing or blockages of these arteries are a significant cause of most strokes, and therefore prevention, diagnosis and treatment are very important. The primary risk factors for these blockages (atherosclerosis) is tobacco abuse or exposure, high cholesterol and/or a high fat diet, uncontrolled hypertension and poorly regulated diabetes.
The diagnosis of carotid artery disease is made by medical personnel either hearing an abnormal noise in the neck when listening with a stethoscope and/or by a non-invasive ultrasound scan of the arteries. Additional testing by either a CAT scan or an angiogram (arteriogram) is sometimes required. Mild or moderate blockages which remain asymptomatic (in terms of mini-strokes or full-blown strokes) can be successfully treated with gentle blood thinners and medication or lifestyle modification to address the underlying risk factors. Severe and symptomatic blockages usually are best dealt with either surgically or with a stent placement.