What Is Carotid Artery Disease?
Your carotid arteries are the two large arteries on either side of your neck that carry oxygen-rich blood away from the heart and into the brain and body. When these arteries are blocked or narrowed, most often due to atherosclerosis, it’s known as carotid artery disease or carotid artery stenosis. Atherosclerosis is a hardening of the arteries that results from buildup of fatty plaque. This buildup makes it difficult for the blood to flow efficiently throughout the body and can significantly increase an individual’s risk of stroke.
One in five women in the United States will have a stroke during her lifetime, and close to 60% of stroke deaths are in women. Thus, the importance of keeping your carotid arteries healthy and clear of plaque is paramount.
Who’s at Risk?
The most common risk factors for carotid artery disease in women include:
- Family history
- High blood pressure
- Sedentary lifestyle
While certain risk factors are out of a woman’s control, others can be modified to decrease the likelihood of developing the disease. Preventative recommendations to reduce your risk include managing your weight, eating a healthy diet high in fruits and vegetables and low in cholesterol and saturated fat, smoking cessation, and an exercise program approved by your physician.
How Is It Treated?
Carotid artery disease is diagnosed through a simple, painless ultrasound exam of the neck or through a standard angiogram (X-ray of your blood vessels). Once diagnosed, your physician will recommend lifestyle changes to slow the progression of atherosclerosis. He or she may also put you on a medication to control your blood pressure or lower your cholesterol.
If your blockages are severe, surgical options to remove the blockages from the artery will likely be necessary. The most common surgical option is known as a carotid endarterectomy, which involves opening the affected artery with a small incision and removing the blockages. If that technique is too risky for the patient or the blockages are too difficult to reach, a carotid angioplasty and stenting may be performed. With this, your vascular surgeon will thread a catheter through the artery, inflate it with a balloon, and place a small mesh coil (stent) to keep it from narrowing again.