Many people with carotid artery disease aren’t aware they have it until they have a stroke as a result. That’s certainly not how you want to find out, so it’s important to pay close attention to your health, know the risk factors, and get screened for carotid artery disease if you exhibit any.
Carotid artery disease is a buildup of plaque within the carotid arteries — blood vessels located on either side of the neck that carry blood to the brain. Plaque is made up of cholesterol, calcium, fat and other substances traveling through the bloodstream. The plaque buildup can cause narrowing or blockage within the arteries, which is called atherosclerosis.
If some of that plaque breaks off, it can form a blood clot that blocks blood flow to the brain, resulting in a stroke. Blood carries oxygen to the brain, and if the brain is cut off from oxygen for even a few minutes, brain cells start dying. Though the day-to-day of living with carotid artery disease might not come with symptoms, the primary concern is the risk of stroke. Plaque buildup gets worse over time, so the earlier you are aware of the condition, the better.
Unfortunately carotid artery disease does not have noticeable symptoms, and therefore many people do not know they have it until they have had a stroke. There are, however, risk factors to be aware of, including:
Because people with carotid artery disease don’t experience regular discomfort or pain, it’s even more important to get screened if you exhibit one or more of the risk factors listed above. Carotid artery disease is a major risk factor for strokes, so knowing you have it is a significant step in preventing a medical emergency.
Typically, the primary goal for carotid artery disease treatment is not to be “cured,” but to prevent further plaque buildup (and therefore a stroke). If the blockage is severe, however, your doctor may recommend one of two surgical options to open up the arteries or remove the plaque.
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:
If you’re aged 55 or over, you should get screened for carotid artery disease as soon as you can. If you are aged 40+ and exhibit two or more risk factors — or if you just want to be proactive about your health — get screened. Life Line Screening offers non-invasive ultrasound screenings that can empower you to be knowledgeable about your health and move forward confidently.
Though carotid artery disease does not come with symptoms, strokes have significant warning signs. Knowing these signs can be life-saving for you or a loved one, so it’s important to keep them in mind. If you or a loved one are experiencing these symptoms, call 911 immediately.
The American Stroke Association recommends using the “F.A.S.T.” acronym to memorize the four primary signs:
Most people are not aware they have carotid artery disease until they have a stroke. Don’t let a lack of knowledge lead to a medical emergency. Schedule a screening today with Life Line Screening and take ownership of your health.