Carotid Artery Disease

Detection, prevention and treatment

The award-winning vascular specialists at Novant Health Heart & Vascular Institute can help you reduce the risk of stroke by identifying the symptoms of carotid artery disease and providing effective treatment options.

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Carotid artery disease causes and risk factors

Carotid artery disease (also known as carotid artery stenosis) occurs when plaque builds up on the inside walls of the carotid arteries on either side of your neck. This narrowing of the arteries is called atherosclerosis.

Risk factors that increase your potential for developing carotid artery disease include:

  • Obesity and diabetes
  • Lack of exercise
  • Smoking or significant second-hand smoke exposure
  • Age (65+) and sex (assigned male at birth)
  • High blood pressure (hypertension)
  • High cholesterol

Carotid artery disease symptoms

Carotid artery disease is referred to as “the silent killer” because it often doesn't present any telltale symptoms. You may not even know you have it until you experience symptoms related to a stroke or a transient ischemic attack (TIA), also called a mini-stroke. These symptoms may include:

  • Physical weakness or loss of feeling on one side of the body
  • Drooping facial muscles on one side
  • Loss of vision in one eye
  • Slurred speech or difficulty communicating
  • Confusion or dizziness
  • Numbness in the face or extremities
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Sudden severe headache

How carotid artery disease affects you

Although you can live a healthy life with carotid artery disease, you need to address specific causes and risk factors to prevent or lower the possibility of a stroke or mini-stroke. If you experience stroke-like symptoms, immediately call 911 or have someone take you to the nearest emergency room.

Diagnosing carotid artery disease

If your primary care provider detects a whistling or whooshing sound in your neck (called a "bruit") through a stethoscope, they may refer you for diagnostic testing. You may also be referred for testing if you experience stroke-like symptoms.

A duplex ultrasound is a test that can determine how blood is flowing through your carotid arteries. Several types of angiograms – which involve injecting a dye (contrast agent) into your bloodstream — can also provide insights into your carotid artery blood flow. These include:

  • Cerebral angiography
  • Computed tomography angiography (CTA)
  • Magnetic resonance angiography (MRA)