The carotid arteries in the neck carry blood from the heart to the brain. Carotid artery disease results from a build-up of plaque that hardens the artery, a condition called atherosclerosis. This blockage can narrow the artery and restrict blood flow, increasing a person's risk of having a stroke. A piece of the blockage can also break off and lodge in the artery or in a smaller vessel.
Carotid artery disease does not always cause symptoms. The first alert that you have a blocked carotid artery could be a stroke. However, some people do experience warning signs. These come in the form of transient ischemic attacks, or TIAs.
During a TIA, you may experience a tingling, weakness, numbness or loss of control on one side of your body; loss of vision in one eye; or a slurring of speech. These symptoms are temporary and usually disappear within an hour. Nevertheless, they should be reported to your doctor immediately. If these symptoms last more than a day, you may have had a stroke.
Carotid surgery is performed to clear a blockage in the carotid artery and restore blood flow to the brain. Carotid surgery procedures may take the form of an endarterectomy or an angioplasty with stent placement.
An endarterectomy surgically removes diseased material and clogged deposits from the inside of an artery to restore normal blood flow. When the procedure is performed on the carotid artery, it is called a carotid endarterectomy. By keeping blood flow open to the brain, a carotid endarterectomy helps prevent the occurrence or recurrence of stroke.
Carotid stenting involves the implantation of a metal mesh tube (a "stent") to hold a clogged artery open so blood can flow through it unobstructed. The stent is put in place using a technique called balloon angioplasty. A small tube known as a catheter with a tiny balloon on the end is inserted into an artery in the groin, snaked up to the carotid artery, and gently expanded, pushing open the blockage and restoring blood flow. The stent is then put in place to ensure that the artery stays open.
Stenting is a relatively new procedure for carotid disease and is usually only recommended for patients with severe stenosis (blockage) who experience symptoms from the restricted blood flow.