The carotid arteries extend from the aorta to the brain, passing through the neck. Carotid artery disease occurs when the section in the neck becomes constricted, threatening the blood supply to the brain. When the brain is deprived of blood, a stroke can occur.
The most common source of constriction is plaque—a substance made largely of cholesterol that builds up in the blood vessels as we age. The plaque itself can reduce or disturb blood flow, or it can result in a clot that completely blocks any blood from passing through the carotid artery. Blood clots in the carotid arteries are a major cause of stroke.
Carotid artery disease does not always produce symptoms in its early stage. Sometimes the first sign of the disease is a stroke. However, the disease may cause an early warning symptom known as a transient ischemic attack (TIA), or "mini stroke." During a TIA, for a few minutes to an hour you may experience:
- Weakness or tingling on one side of the body
- Loss of vision in one eye
- Speaking difficulties
- Loss of motor control in one arm or leg
If you experience a TIA, do not ignore it. Talk to your physician immediately.
Several factors are known to reduce the risk of carotid artery disease, stroke and TIAs. These include:
- Taking prescribed statins and blood thinning medications as directed
- Eating a diet low in saturated fats
- Maintaining a normal weight
- Getting regular exercise