Carotid Artery Stenosis



Carotid artery stenosis is caused by the buildup of plaque in the arteries. This buildup 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 of age. 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



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 or dim vision
  • Weakness, numbness, or tingling of the face, arm, leg, or one side of the body
  • Face drooping
  • Lightheadedness
  • Problems with balance or falling
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Problems with speaking, thinking, understanding, or memory


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

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



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 health issues a person may have, such as high blood pressure and diabetes
  • Lifestyle changes such as:

Surgery may be needed for severe plaque buildup. Options are:

  • Carotid endarterectomy—cleaning the plaque from the artery
  • Carotid angioplasty and stenting—inserting a stent to keep the artery open


There are no guidelines to prevent carotid artery stenosis. A person may be able to lower their risk of having it by:

  • Working out regularly
  • 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 health issues under control such as 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.