Smoking (people who smoke one pack a day double their risk of a stroke)
Two uncommon conditions called Marfan syndrome and fibromuscular dysplasia (abnormal growth or development of the cells in the walls of carotid arteries) may also cause narrowing of the carotid arteries.
You may not have any symptoms of carotid artery disease.
Blood-thinning medicines such as aspirin, clopidogrel (Plavix), and warfarin (Coumadin) to lower your risk of stroke
Medicine and diet to lower your cholesterol
Medicine and diet to control your blood pressure
No treatment, other than checking your carotid artery with tests every year
There are two invasive ways to treat a carotid artery that is narrowed or blocked. These procedures are done to prevent new strokes in people with large blockages.
Surgery, called carotid endarterectomy, is done to remove the buildup in your carotid arteries. See: Carotid artery surgery
Carotid angioplasty and stenting (CAS) is done through a much smaller surgical cut, by pushing instruments into your arteries and placing a wire mesh inside the artery through a tube in the groin.
Stroke is a leading cause of death in the United States. Some people who have a stroke recover most or all of their functions. Others die from the stroke itself or from complications. About half of those who have a stroke have long-term problems.
The major complications with carotid artery disease are:
Transient ischemic attack (TIA). This is an episode in which a person has stroke-like symptoms for less than 24 hours, usually less than 1-2 hours. A TIA is often considered a warning sign that a stroke may happen in the future if something is not done to prevent it.
Stroke. A stroke can happen when a blood vessel in any part of the brain is blocked. The blood flow through the narrowed carotid artery may slow so much that a clot forms. A stroke may also occur if a small piece of a blood clot breaks off and travels to a smaller artery in the brain.
Calling your health care provider
Go to the emergency room or call the local emergency number (such as 911) as soon as symptoms occur. When having a stroke, every second of delay can result in more brain injury.
The following can help prevent a stroke:
Adults should have their cholesterol checked every 5 years and treated, if needed. If you have been treated for high cholesterol, you will need to have it checked more often.
Avoid fatty foods. Follow a healthy, low-fat diet.
Do not drink more than 1 - 2 alcoholic drinks a day.
Exercise regularly: 30 minutes a day if you are not overweight; 60 - 90 minutes a day if you are overweight.
Get your blood pressure checked every 1 - 2 years, especially if high blood pressure runs in your family. 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.
David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.