Carotid Artery Disease
Major Arteries in Neck Become Blocked
Carotid artery disease occurs when the major arteries in your neck -- the ones that deliver oxygen-rich blood to your brain -- become blocked by the buildup of a fatty material called plaque.
Location in the Body
The carotid arteries extend from your aorta in your chest to your brain. There are two of them, one on each side of your neck. You can feel them, just under the angle of your jaw.
Result of Atherosclerosis
In carotid artery disease, also called carotid artery stenosis, the arteries become narrowed as a result of a condition called atherosclerosis.
- This is the buildup of cholesterol, fat and other substances, which stick to the blood vessel walls over time and form a substance called plaque.
- The more plaque that builds up, the narrower the arteries become, reducing the amount of blood that gets to the brain.
- The condition is similar to coronary artery disease, where plaque buildup narrows arteries to the heart and leads to heart attack.
May Result in Stroke
In the case of carotid artery disease, the risk is that the blockage of blood flow to the brain will result in a stroke. If blood flow is cut off for more than just a few minutes, brain cells die. A stroke can result in permanent brain damage, long-term disability, paralysis or death.
Strokes from carotid plaques occur as a result of the plaque narrowing the artery to the point where blood flow ceases and the artery clots or when a piece of the plaque breaks off and is carried downstream to lodge in an artery in the brain. Studies have shown that the risk of stroke is strongly related to how badly narrowed the artery becomes and if the blockage is causing symptoms.