Carotid Artery Disease
The carotid arteries are blood vessels that carry blood from the heart up to your head and brain. You can normally find them by placing your fingers on either side of your windpipe.
Carotid Artery Disease happens when plaque starts to build up in your carotid arteries (which are found in your neck). If left untreated, patients may have a stroke, which is when a piece of plaque or a blood clot blocks the carotid artery to the brain. They may also develop a TIA (Transient Ischaemic Attack) which is a small stroke that normally resolves within 24 hours.
The main causes for carotid artery disease can either be fixed such as being a male, a family history of stroke or age. However, there are also other factors such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure or diabetes.
It is quite possible that you can have carotid artery disease and not have any symptoms. Normally, patients will present having had a TIA (mini stroke). The symptoms from this normally present including weakness to the face or arms, and speech problems. You may have seen the FAST campaign asking to look out for Facial weakness, Arm weakness, Speech changes, Time.
The best way to treat Carotid Artery Disease by stopping smoking, doing exercise and maintaining a healthy diet. There are treatments that we can look to treat with both medication and surgery:
All patients with carotid artery disease should take anti-platelet medication which will help to stop platelets sticking together and reduce complications. The most common anti-platelet medication is aspirin. Patients may also be prescribed with Clopidogrel or in some cases warfaring which will help to reduce blood clots.
If the narrowing of the carotid artery is significant, you may need to have the artery opened, with the blockage removed which will increase the flow of blood to the brain. This can be one of 2 ways:
- Carotid Endarterectomy – This is generally performed under both general and local anesthesia (sedation) and involves making an incision in your neck. You then identify the diseased area of vein and removing the plaque from the artery. You then stitch up the vessel and blood can flow freely
- Carotid Angioplasty & Stenting – This is performed under local anesthesia (sedation). A balloon is inserted into the narrowed part of the vessel and is then inflated to open up the narrowing. A stent (a flexible metal tube) may also be placed to open up the artery
With both treatments, you probably require an overnight stay in hospital. You are normally able to return to normal activities after a few weeks.
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