Carotid artery stenosis, also known as carotid artery disease, is a condition that involves the narrowing of your carotid arteries – the blood vessels located on either side of your neck.
These arteries supply oxygen-rich blood to your head and brain. A narrowing occurs due to the accumulation of plaque, which is composed of fat, cholesterol and other substances found in the blood.
Carotid artery stenosis is a serious condition as too much plaque build-up can prevent the flow of blood to your brain. In other cases, a small piece of plaque may travel to the brain, causing stroke or possibly death.
Patients with carotid artery stenosis often do not show symptoms until the narrowing reaches the severe stage.
The first sign of carotid artery stenosis may be a stroke or transient ischaemic attack (TIA), which is also known as a “mini-stroke”. A TIA is similar to a stroke, but the symptoms only last a few minutes and usually disappear within an hour.
The symptoms of a stroke or a TIA include:
The main cause of carotid artery stenosis is atherosclerosis. This process is characterised by the formation of plaque along the inner walls of your carotid arteries. Plaques accumulate over time, and the build-up causes your arteries to become stiff and narrow.
When your carotid artery is narrowed, the flow of blood to your brain decreases, consequently reducing the supply of oxygen and other nutrients needed by the brain to function. Sometimes, a small piece of plaque breaks off the artery wall, travels through your bloodstream, and causes a clog in smaller arteries in your brain.
There are several factors that can raise your risk of developing carotid artery stenosis over time. These include:
If you have too much plaque build-up in your carotid arteries, you may develop stroke due to reduced blood flow, plaque rupture and blood clots leading to blockage.
A stroke can lead to serious disability and may even cause death.
Preventing or delaying carotid artery stenosis is focused on making lifestyle changes to manage and address modifiable risk factors. These include quitting smoking, exercising regularly, and following a diet that comprises plenty of fruits and limits intake of salt and fatty foods, among others.