Carotid arteries are a pair of blood vessels that are responsible for supplying the brain with nutrient and oxygen-rich blood. These blood vessels are located on either side of the neck below the jawline. The blood is supplied to the cortex and other important structures of the brain which perform vital functions in the body for the sustenance of life. Buildup of a waxy material in the arteries can result in blockage thereby hampering blood circulation. This is known as plaque, which may obstruct the arteries and damage their walls, leading to carotid artery disease, which is also referred to as carotid artery stenosis. This arterial disease can pose a threat to a person's health, since an absence of prompt treatment can be life-threatening and also result in fatality in some cases.
Causes of Carotid Artery Disease
Under normal circumstances, the carotid arteries are flexible and smooth, that allow the free flow of blood and nutrients through them. The healthy signs of the carotid arteries lie in the fact that they are elastic in nature. However, these vital signs may not be long-lived, since there are many factors which may affect the arteries. With the passage of time, the carotid arteries may turn stiff and narrow due to the accumulation of plaque.
Plaque is made up of cellular debris, fibrous tissues, blood clots, tiny lumps of calcium and cholesterol etc. This condition is referred to as atherosclerosis and may occur at the site of injury in the artery. This can narrow the arteries substantially and increase the chances of a stroke, which can disrupt blood supply to the brain and can lead to permanent organ damage. The risk factors associated with this arterial disease are aging, diabetes, obesity and high blood pressure. Smoking, alcoholism and leading a sedentary lifestyle can lead to an abnormal increase in the blood fat levels. Hereditary also plays a key role in determining the cause of carotid artery stenosis.
Symptoms of Carotid Artery Disease
The body may exhibit certain signs indicating that something is wrong. However, an unfortunate thing about this disease is that there are no symptoms present in the initial stages. The signs may surface only after the condition has intensified, or if the blockage has spread farther than the original site.
- Feeling of numbness in the face, neck and upper arm. This may radiate to the lower part of the body and result in one-sided temporary paralysis.
- Sudden loss of vision in the eye on the affected artery side.
- Inability to focus properly or understand others.
- Slurred speech since the facial muscle pulls towards one side.
- Headaches and facial pain may also be reported in some cases.
Treating Carotid Artery Stenosis
Identifying the carotid artery blockage symptoms and treatment for the same, in the initial stages, will help in preventing this disorder from intensifying. Diagnosing the arterial obstruction in the initial phase is one of the effective ways to treat it without giving rise to any unwanted complications. Here are some of the treatment options, whose primary goal is to dislodge the plaque and restore blood circulation to the brain.
- In case of blood clots, the physician may prescribe anticoagulants and blood thinners to prevent the formation of clots. Anti platelet medications may also be administered to reduce the risk of a stroke. Medications and drugs to lower erratic blood pressure and cholesterol may also be prescribed.
- If the disease does not resolve in spite of medications, then the doctor may proceed towards other treatment methods which include surgical unblocking of the carotid artery. A stent or metal mesh may be inserted into the artery to keep it open and facilitate proper blood flow.
- A surgical procedure known as carotid endarterectomy (CEA), where the plaque and diseased parts of the artery are removed may be performed. CEA is beneficial for patients who have suffered from mild strokes or have carotid atherosclerosis. This is done under general anesthesia and once the affected parts are removed, the healthy ends are sewn together and blood circulation gets restored.
The health care provider may also help you chalk out the diet for carotid artery disease, which may include foods rich in antioxidants, folate and potassium. Alteration to the lifestyle will also help in reducing the chances of contracting this arterial blockage. Stay healthy!