Carotid Artery Stenosis

Overview

Definition

Carotid artery stenosis is when the carotid arteries narrow. The carotid arteries are blood vessels on each side of the neck. They supply blood from the heart to the brain.

This condition can lead to a stroke and transient ischemic attacks (TIA) or mini strokes.

Blood Supply to the Brain
IMAGE
Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

Causes

Carotid artery stenosis is caused by the build-up of plaque in the arteries. This build-up is called atherosclerosis. Plaque is made of cholesterol, fat, and other substances.

Less common causes are problems in the carotid artery, such as:

  • An injury or tear
  • Arteritis (inflammation)
  • A blood clot
  • A tumor

Risk Factors

Carotid artery stenosis is more common in men and people over 60 years old. Other things that raise the risk are:

  • Diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • Smoking
  • Problems with blood fat levels, such as:
    • High cholesterol
    • High triglycerides
  • Narrowing of other arteries, such as:
    • Coronary artery disease—affects heart vessels
    • Peripheral artery disease (PAD)—affects leg vessels
  • Aortic aneurysm—a weak, bulging vessel from the heart

SymptomsandDiagnosis

Symptoms

There are usually no symptoms. When symptoms happen, they may be those of a stroke or a transient ischemic attack (TIA or mini-stroke). Symptoms may be:

  • Short-term loss of sight in one eye, blurry or dim vision
  • Weakness, numbness, or tingling of the face, arm, leg, or one side of the body
  • Problems speaking
  • Lightheadedness
  • Problems with balance or falling
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Problems with thinking, understanding, or memory

Diagnosis

The doctor will ask about symptoms and past health. A physical exam will be done.

Imaging tests will diagnose blood vessel problems. They may include:

  • Carotid ultrasonography
  • Computer tomography angiography (CTA)
  • Magnetic resonance angiography (MRA)

Treatments

Treatment

The goal of treatment is to improve blood flow to the brain and prevent a stroke. Treatment depends on how severe the condition is. It also depends on if there are symptoms.

Treatment options may be:

  • Medicines to:
    • Thin blood
    • Lower cholesterol
    • Manage other conditions such as high blood pressure and diabetes—if present
  • Lifestyle changes such as:
    • Quitting smoking
    • A healthful diet .
    • Regular physical activity .

For severe plaque build-up, surgery may be needed, such as:

  • Carotid endarterectomy—to clean the plaque from the artery
  • Carotid angioplasty and stenting—a stent is inserted to keep the artery open

Prevention

There are no guidelines to prevent carotid artery stenosis. However, certain risks may be lowered by:

  • Regular physical activity
  • Eating more fruits and vegetables and eating less salt and fat
  • Not smoking
  • Not drinking alcohol, or drinking it in moderation—this means:
    • No more than 2 drinks per day for men
    • No more than 1 drink per day for women
  • Keeping other conditions under control. This includes high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and diabetes

This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.

Edits to original content made by Denver Health.

a (Internal Carotid Artery Stenosis; Carotid Artery Disease)

RESOURCES

American Heart Association http://www.heart.org 

National Stroke Association http://www.stroke.org 

CANADIAN RESOURCES

Health Canada https://www.canada.ca 

Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada http://www.heartandstroke.ca 

References

Baiu I, Stern JR. Carotid artery endarterectomy. JAMA. 2020;324(1):110.

Carotid artery stenosis. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/carotid-artery-stenosis. Accessed August 31, 2021.

Carotid artery stenosis. RadiologyInfo website. Available at: https://www.radiologyinfo.org/en/info/carotidstenosis. Accessed August 31, 2021.

Carotid stenosis. EBSCO Nursing Reference Center website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/nursing/products/nursing-reference-center. Accessed August 31, 2021