Carotid artery disease is a condition in which one or both carotid arteries become narrowed or blocked by a buildup of plaque. Plaque is composed of scar tissue, blood cells in the artery wall, cholesterol, and other fatty substances. Plaque can slow or stop blood flow to the brain.
If plaque buildup in the carotid arteries does not significantly interfere with blood flow to the brain, your doctor may just recommend steps to prevent blood clots and additional plaque buildup. These steps may include prescribing anti-clotting medication and treating high blood pressure and high blood cholesterol. The doctor may also recommend lifestyle changes, such as regular exercise.
If a significant blockage occurs in one or both of your carotid arteries or if you suffer a stroke or mini-stroke, interventional treatment may be necessary. The doctor may recommend a surgery called carotid endarterectomy, to remove plaque. Alternatively your physician may consider you appropriate for endovascular treatment with angioplasty and placement of a stent in the artery, to widen the passage through which blood flows. This lesser invasive method of treatment of carotid artery disease is undergoing clinical trials to determine which patients are best treated this way.
Carotid endarterectomy is a surgical procedure in which plaque is removed from a carotid artery. Removing the plaque restores normal blood flow through the carotid artery. Only your doctor can decide the best way to treat your carotid artery disease. Your doctor will base his or her decision on the degree of blockage and what is medically appropriate in your situation.