Carotid Artery Disease/ Carotid Artery Stenosis

The carotid arteries, located on each side of your neck, are the main blood vessels that carry blood and oxygen to the brain. When these arteries become narrowed as a result of plaque buildup, it’s called carotid artery disease, or carotid artery stenosis.

It’s important to know that narrowing of the carotid arteries can cause a stroke [LINK to Stroke Condition page], which is a leading cause of death and disability in the United States [Source: American Stroke Association]. That’s why, if you have risk factors for atherosclerosis, you should be evaluated for carotid artery disease and treated right away if you have it.

Cooper’s vascular and endovascular surgeons are nationally recognized for their expertise in diagnosing carotid artery disease and tailoring treatment to your individual situation.

Why Choose Cooper to Treat Carotid Artery Disease?

Surgeons in the Division of Vascular and Endovascular Surgery at Cooper University Health Care treat a high volume of patients with carotid artery disease—more than any other hospital in South Jersey. So can feel confident that you’re receiving care from an exceptionally qualified team of experts.

Some features of our program you can count on include:

  • Expert diagnosis: Along with a complete medical history and physical exam, tests for carotid artery disease may include:
    • Carotid artery duplex scan, a non-invasive ultrasound test to assess the blood flow of the carotid arteries
    • Angiography, a test to assess the how blocked the carotid arteries are by taking X-ray images while a contrast dye is injected
    • Magnetic resonance angiography (MRA), which uses MRI technology and intravenous (IV) contrast dye to make the blood vessels more visible
  • A personalized approach to care: After diagnosis, treatment is tailored to your individual needs and the severity of your carotid artery disease. Generally:
    • If a carotid artery is less than 50 percent narrowed, it is often treated with medication and lifestyle changes
      • Medications include antiplatelets (such as aspirin) to reduce the risk of blood clots, and cholesterol- and blood pressure-lowering medicines
      • Lifestyle changes include quitting smoking, exercise and a healthy diet to help lower blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar
    • If the artery is between 50 percent and 69 percent narrowed, you may need more aggressive treatment (medication or surgery), especially if you have symptoms
    • If there is carotid narrowing of more than 70 percent, surgery is usually advised; surgical treatment decreases the risk for stroke after symptoms such as TIA (transient ischemic attack, or a “mini-stroke”).
  • Today’s most advanced surgical treatments: Surgical treatment of carotid artery disease includes:
    • Carotid endarterectomy (CEA) 
    • Carotid artery angioplasty with stenting (CAS) 

Carotid Artery Disease Causes and Risk Factors

Atherosclerosis—also called hardening of the arteries—causes most carotid artery disease. In this condition, fatty deposits build up along the inner layer of the arteries, forming plaque. This narrows the arteries, decreasing or completely blocking the flow of blood to the brain.

Risk factors associated with atherosclerosis include:

  • Age
  • Male
  • Family history
  • Race
  • Genetic factors
  • High cholesterol
  • High blood pressure
  • Smoking
  • Diabetes
  • Overweight
  • Diet high in saturated fat
  • Lack of exercise

Knowing your risk factors can help you make lifestyle changes and work with your doctor to reduce the chances you’ll get the disease.

Carotid Artery Disease Symptoms

Carotid artery disease may not cause symptoms until it severely narrows or blocks a carotid artery. Signs and symptoms may include:

  • A bruit, a whooshing sound that your doctor may hear when listening to your carotid arteries with a stethoscope
  • A transient ischemic attack (TIA) , a sudden temporary loss of blood flow to the brain, sometimes called a mini-stroke
  • A stroke 

For some people, having a TIA is the first sign of carotid artery disease. During a mini-stroke, you may have some or all of the symptoms of a stroke; however, the symptoms usually go away on their own within 24 hours. Stroke and mini-stroke symptoms may include:

  • A sudden, severe headache with no known cause
  • Dizziness or loss of balance
  • Inability to move one or more of your limbs
  • Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes
  • Sudden weakness or numbness in the face or limbs, often on just one side of the body
  • Trouble speaking or understanding speech

Learn more about TIA and stroke.

Contact Us

To learn more about the services available in the Division of Vascular and Endovascular Surgery or to schedule an appointment, please call 856.342.2151.

Refer a Patient

If you are a doctor who wants to refer a patient to the Division of Vascular and Endovascular Surgery, please call 856.968.7067.