Stroke and Carotid Artery Disease

Your carotid arteries are the two large blood vessels in your neck that supply your brain with oxygen. When one or both become narrowed or blocked by a fatty substance called plaque, it is called carotid artery disease. Causes of plaque buildup include:

  • Family history
  • Unhealthy lifestyle (including lack of exercise, unbalanced diet and smoking)

Carotid Artery Disease and Stroke

Carotid artery disease is a major risk factor for stroke, which occurs when there is an interruption in blood flow to the brain. This interruption occurs when:

  • A piece of plaque blocks a carotid artery, called an ischemic stroke (approximately 90 percent of strokes are ischemic)
  • A weakened carotid vessel bursts and bleeds into the surrounding area, called a hemorrhagic stroke

Stroke is dangerous because if your brain doesn't receive oxygen for even a few minutes, there can be long-lasting damage. People who have had a stroke often experience loss of memory, balance, movement ability or speech.

Did you know?

  • 90 percent of strokes are caused by blockage in the carotid artery
  • Stroke is the third leading cause of death in the U.S.
  • Someone dies of a stroke every 3 to 4 minutes.
  • Strokes cause 1 out of 10 deaths worldwide.
  • There are 700,000 strokes annually—one every 45 seconds.
  • Stroke is the leading cause of permanent adult disability.
  • 46,000 more women than men have a stroke each year.

Risk factors for stroke

  • Smoking
  • Irregular heart rhythm (Atrial Fibrillation)
  • High Blood Pressure
  • Diabetes
  • High Cholesterol
  • Family history of stroke
  • Prior stroke

Stroke Signs

It is important to know the signs of a stroke so you can seek immediate medical attention:

  • Numbness or tingling in an arm or leg
  • Dizziness or falling down
  • Feeling tired
  • Trouble swallowing or speaking
  • Personality or mood changes
  • Partial or complete vision loss
  • Headache
  • Nausea or vomiting

Call 9-1-1 immediately if you or a loved one is having these symptoms.

Diagnostic testing

Generally, an ultrasound is used initially to diagnose blockage in the carotid arteries. If you have questions about stroke, or your risk of stroke, talk to your healthcare provider.

Stroke prevention

Because stroke effects can be devastating, prevention is essential. Although you cannot control risk factors such as age and gender, living a healthy lifestyle goes far. We will talk with you about your personal and family history and create a prevention plan that works for you. By screening for and tracking carotid artery disease while it is still in the early stages, the vast majority of stroke cases can be avoided.

Rest assured that our highly trained team will take good care of you and your family. Please don't hesitate to contact us with questions or concerns.

Learn more about stroke and neurological care at Sentara.