The good news about carotid artery disease is that it actually does not cause pain or discomfort for most people. The bad news is that, as a result, most people with carotid artery disease don’t know they have it.
Carotid artery disease is the buildup of plaque in the carotid arteries, which are located on either side of the neck and carry blood to the brain. Plaque is made up of cholesterol, fat, calcium and other substances that travel through the bloodstream, and plaque buildup hinders blood flow through the vessel. If the plaque breaks off and forms a blood clot, it can block blood flow to the brain and cause a stroke.
That’s why many people don’t know they have carotid artery disease until they have a stroke, which is certainly not how you want to find out.
How do I know if I have carotid artery disease?
The best way to prevent a stroke due to carotid artery disease is to be proactive, and that means getting familiar with your health. The most accurate way to determine whether you have carotid artery disease is by getting a non-invasive, simple ultrasound screening. Knowing when to get screened depends on your individual risk factors.
While there are no symptoms of carotid artery disease, there are several risk factors to consider:
If you’re aged 55 or over, or if you’re 40+ and exhibit more than one risk factor, it’s important to get screened for carotid artery disease. (If you are 40+ without risk factors but want to be more proactive about your health, you can also talk to your doctor to see if a carotid artery disease screening would be right for you.)
The Silent Risk of Carotid Artery Disease
Unfortunately carotid artery disease develops silently, without noticeable symptoms, and many people do not know they have it until they’ve experienced the medical emergency of a stroke. Because strokes can be life-threatening, it’s important to know the warning signs. If you or a loved one are experiencing the symptoms below, call 911 immediately.
The American Stroke Association recommends using the “F.A.S.T.” acronym to memorize the four primary signs:
Treating Carotid Artery Disease
If you discover you have carotid artery disease but the blockage is not severe, your doctor will likely recommend some lifestyle changes and possibly medication to prevent further buildup and lower your risk of having a stroke.
You can live a normal life with carotid artery disease — as previously mentioned, most people don’t even experience symptoms. But it’s critical that you be proactive about your health now to avoid an emergency later. Here are some of the lifestyle changes and medications your doctor might suggest if you are diagnosed with carotid artery disease:
In cases of severe blockage, your doctor may recommend one of two surgery options. To open up the arteries, a procedure called carotid angioplasty and stenting can be used, which allows the doctor to use a tiny balloon catheter to open up the artery and insert a small mesh tube to keep the pathway open.
Only in the most serious cases does a doctor recommend surgery to remove the plaque, but this procedure is called a carotid endarterectomy. An incision is made at the site of the buildup, the plaque is removed from the inside of the artery, and the vessel is stitched back up, restoring proper blood flow.
The Bottom Line
Carotid artery disease is not painful to live with, but a significantly increased risk of stroke makes it critical to know whether or not you have it. If you are aged 55+ or exhibit any of the risk factors for carotid artery disease listed above, you should get screened as soon as you can.
Life Line Screening offers non-invasive ultrasound screenings to empower you to take control of your health and move forward confidently. Don’t let a lack of awareness about your health lead to a medical emergency. Schedule a screening today.