At early stages, you not may any symptoms. After plaque builds up, the first symptoms of carotid artery disease may be a stroke or a transient ischemic attack (TIA). A TIA is a small stroke that doesn't cause any lasting damage.
Symptoms of stroke and TIA include:
Loss of memory
Loss of sensation
Problems with speech and language
Weakness in one part of your body
Exams and Tests
Your health care provider will perform a physical exam. Your provider may use a stethoscope to listen to the blood flow in your neck for an unusual sound called a bruit. This sound may be a sign of carotid artery disease.
Your provider also may find clots in the blood vessels of your eye. If you have had a stroke or TIA, a nervous system (neurological) exam will show other problems.
Because there are no symptoms, you may not know you have carotid artery disease until you have a stroke or TIA.
Stroke is a leading cause of death in the U.S.
Some people who have a stroke recover most or all of their functions.
Others die of the stroke itself or from complications.
About half of people who have a stroke have long-term problems.
Major complications of carotid artery disease are:
Transient ischemic attack. This occurs when a blot clot briefly blocks a blood vessel to the brain. It causes the same symptoms as stroke. Symptoms last only a few minutes to an hour or two, but no longer than 24 hours. A TIA does not cause lasting damage. TIAs are a warning sign that a stroke may happen in the future if nothing is done to prevent it.
Stroke. When the blood supply to the brain is partly or completely blocked, it causes a stroke. Most often, this happens when a blood clot blocks a blood vessel to the brain. A stroke can also occur when a blood vessel breaks open or leaks. Stokes can cause long-term brain damage or death.
When to Contact a Medical Professional
Go to the emergency room or call the local emergency number (such as 911) as soon as symptoms occur. The sooner you receive treatment, the better your chance for recovery. With a stroke, every second of delay can cause more brain injury.
Here's what you can do to help prevent carotid artery disease and stroke:
Follow a healthy, low-fat diet.
Do not drink more than 1 to 2 alcoholic drinks a day.
Exercise at least 30 minutes a day, most days of the week.
Get your cholesterol checked every 5 years. If you are being treated for high cholesterol, you need to have it checked more often.
Get your blood pressure checked every 1 to 2 years. If you have high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, or you have had a stroke, you need to have it checked more often. Ask your doctor.
Follow your doctor's treatment recommendations if you have high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, or heart disease.
Brott TG, Halperin JL, Abbara S, et al. American College of Cardiology Foundation/American Heart Association Task Force on Practice Guidelines, et al. 2011 ASA/ACCF/AHA/AANN/AANS/ACR/ASNR/CNS/SAIP/SCAI/SIR/SNIS/SVM/SVS guideline on the management of patients with extracranial carotid and vertebral artery disease: executive summary: a report of the American College of Cardiology Foundation/American Heart Association Task Force on Practice Guidelines, and the American Stroke Association, American Association of Neuroscience Nurses, American Association of Neurological Surgeons, American College of Radiology, American Society of Neuroradiology, Congress of Neurological Surgeons, Society of Atherosclerosis Imaging and Prevention, Society for Cardiovascular Angiography and Interventions, Society of Interventional Radiology, Society of NeuroInterventional Surgery, Society for Vascular Medicine, and Society for Vascular Surgery. Vasc Med. 2011;16:35-77.
Brott TG, Hobson RW 2nd, Howard G, Roubin GS, Clark WM, Brooks W, et al. Stenting verses endarterectomy for treatment of carotid-artery stenosis. N Engl J Med. 2010;363:11-23.
Glenn Gandelman, MD, MPH, FACC Assistant Clinical Professor of Medicine at New York Medical College, and in private practice specializing in cardiovascular disease in Greenwich, CT. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Bethanne Black, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.