The carotid arteries provide the main supply of blood to the brain and are located on each side of your neck. Carotid artery disease is when these arteries become narrow or blocked – also known as carotid stenosis.
It is usually caused by atherosclerosis which is where the arteries harden due to the build-up of plaque. This can result in a clot forming on the rough narrowing and then this clot being washed up into the brain that can cause a stroke.
Narrowing or blocking of the arteries can be the result of a number of different lifestyle factors such as smoking, diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or just through the natural ageing process.
Often there can be no symptoms of carotid artery disease and a narrowing is detected incidentally or by a screening company. Instead, you may present with symptoms of a stroke or a transient ischemic attack (TIA). Symptoms of these conditions are:
- Blurred vision
- Speech difficulties
- Memory loss
- Vision loss
- Sensation loss
- Weakness in one area of the body
Mr Darby will take your history and perform a physical examination. It is likely that an ultrasound scan will be required.
It is possible to manage this condition with medical treatments that aim to lessen the risk of strokes for example to lower cholesterol and to control blood pressure and drugs to thin the blood eg aspirin.
Mr Darby may choose to perform a carotid endarterectomy – he will make an incision in the carotid artery and remove the fatty and calcified material in the diseased section. The artery is then closed back up and sometimes a patch is added to widen the artery at the same time.
This is almost always performed under a wide local anaesthetic and sedation and you should expect to stay in hospital for 1 night.
If Mr Darby believes that stenting of the artery is the best course of action then he will recommend you to a consultant radiologist for treatment.