Carotid Artery Stenosis



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



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


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)



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


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.