Carotid Artery Disease

Carotid Artery Disease

What is carotid artery disease (CAD)?

CAD is one possible result of a systemic problem called atherosclerosis—a gradual building up of cholesterol and scar tissue, which forms a substance called plaque that clogs the arteries. When atherosclerosis begins to clog the large blood vessels on either side of the neck that supply blood to the head and brain, the condition is called carotid artery disease.

What are the symptoms of CAD?

This is a silent disease that often presents no noticeable symptoms until someone has had a perceptible stroke.

How serious is CAD?

CAD is a leading cause of ischemic stroke and mini-strokes (transient ischemic attacks). CAD can cause a stroke in two ways. The plaque can decrease blood flow to the brain or break off and float into a smaller vessel and deprive a specific portion of the brain of blood flow.

What are the risk factors for CAD?

Anyone at risk for atherosclerosis is also at risk for CAD. This would include those who:

  • have high cholesterol
  • now smoke or have smoked
  • have a family history of vascular disease
  • have diabetes
  • are overweight
  • are inactive
  • have a personal history of high blood pressure, heart disease or other vascular disease

How is diagnostic radiology beneficial in diagnosing CAD?

Your physician may conduct a physical exam using a stethoscope to listen for a rushing sound that might suggest an obstructed carotid artery. Because the physical exam is not always accurate, diagnostic radiology to detect CAD might include Doppler ultrasound (pictures showing areas of normal and obstructed flow that are created using sound waves) or MRA, magnetic resonance angiography. The MRA is non-invasive and creates detailed images of the arteries in the brain using powerful but harmless radio waves and magnetic fields.

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