This condition is a buildup of fatty deposits, called plaque, in the carotid arteries. These are the blood vessels that deliver blood to the brain and head.
Plaque deposits are made of cholesterol, calcium and other bits of debris that become trapped in damaged places along the inner lining of the arterial wall. This process is called atherosclerosis. It can develop over many years, and is linked to high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes and smoking.
Initially, there may be no symptoms of carotid artery disease. But as the disease progresses and blood flow to the brain is restricted, the person may experience sudden numbness or weakness of one side of the face, arm or leg, clumsy motions and slurred speech. The person may become confused, and may lose vision in one eye. If left untreated, carotid artery disease can lead to stroke. It is crucial for a person who experiences these symptoms to seek immediate medical treatment, because these symptoms can be warning signs of a stroke.
Many cases of carotid artery disease may be treated with lifestyle changes. A patient may be encouraged to stop smoking, increase exercise and lose weight. A physician may prescribe medication to thin a patient’s blood, lower blood pressure, or reduce cholesterol. If the patient has severe risk for stroke, surgery may be needed to remove the blockage.