Arteries are blood vessels that carry oxygenated blood from your heart to the rest of your body. The carotid arteries are two large vessels on either side of your neck that supply the large, front part of the brain with blood. This region controls thinking, speech, personality, and sensory and motor functions. If you put your fingers right below the angle of your jaw, you can feel your pulse as blood moves through.

Carotid artery disease, also called carotid artery stenosis or carotid occlusive disease refers to the narrowing or blockage of these important arteries. The narrowing usually comes from atherosclerosis, the buildup of a sticky plaque on the artery walls made up of fat, cholesterol, calcium, and other debris. Obstruction of the carotid arteries puts you at an increased risk for a stroke, the 5th leading cause of death in the US.

The multidisciplinary team of specialists at Comprehensive Vascular Care, with locations in Southfield and Novi, Michigan, offers comprehensive treatment services for carotid occlusive disease. Our board-certified vascular surgeons have over 20 years of experience in advanced surgical techniques to reduce your risk factors for stroke and other health complications and to repair any damage to the carotid artery, should it be necessary.

Risk factors for carotid occlusive disease (COD)

The risk factors for COD are similar to those for other forms of heart disease and include:

  • Increased age
  • Smoking
  • High blood pressure
  • High lipid levels
  • High cholesterol
  • Diabetes
  • Obesity
  • Sedentary lifestyle
  • Family history of either coronary artery disease or carotid artery disease

In most cases, the carotid arteries become diseased a few years after the coronary arteries.

Symptoms of carotid occlusive disease

Oftentimes, you don’t have any symptoms with or warning signs of COD until you have either a transient ischemic attack (TIA) or a stroke. A TIA, often called a “warning” or “mini-stroke,” occurs when blood flow in the arteries drops too low or a clot briefly blocks an artery that provides blood to the brain. Symptoms, which include a sudden loss of vision or blurred vision; a weakness, numbness, or tingling on one side of the face or the entire body; sudden difficulty walking or a lack of coordination; sudden dizziness, confusion, or difficulty speaking, are the same as for a stroke, but they only last a few minutes to a few hours and then disappear.

A TIA, though, is still a medical emergency, as it’s impossible to predict whether it will progress into a major stroke or not. A person who’s experienced a TIA is 10 times more likely to suffer a major stroke than a person who hasn’t. If you experience any of these symptoms, call 911 or get to a hospital as soon as possible.

Diagnosing carotid occlusive disease

Since you may not experience symptoms before you suffer a TIA or stroke, it’s important to see your doctor for regular physical exams, especially if you have any of the risk factors for the disease. The doctor can listen to the arteries with a stethoscope. If he hears an abnormal sound called a bruit (a whoosh), it may indicate turbulent blood flow, a sign of carotid artery disease.

Your doctor may also use specific tests to diagnose COD, including:

  • Carotid ultrasound (standard or Doppler): uses high-frequency sound waves to image the carotid arteries
  • Magnetic resonance angiography (MRA): uses a powerful magnet to gather information about the arteries and brain
  • Computerized tomography angiography (CTA): uses X-rays and computers to produce cross-sectional images of the carotid arteries
  • Cerebral angiography (carotid angiogram): an invasive procedure that lets a doctor see blood flow through the carotid arteries in real time

Treating carotid occlusive disease

Depending on the severity of the blockage in your carotid artery, your doctor may prescribe clot-busting medications and/or may start you on medication therapy to reduce blood pressure and lower cholesterol levels. Patients with diabetes may need additional medications to get their blood sugar levels under control.

When medications aren’t enough, you may be a candidate for surgery. At Comprehensive Vascular Care, our surgeons perform both open and endovascular surgery using the latest techniques. Surgery often involves placing a stent in your artery to allow blood to flow freely. You may also need an angioplasty, a minimally invasive treatment that uses an inflatable balloon to widen the artery and improve blood circulation.

If you have any of the risk factors for carotid occlusive disease, it’s time to come into Comprehensive Vascular Care for an evaluation. Give our office a call at either location, or book your consultation online today. The sooner you get evaluated, the easier it will be to achieve good circulatory health.

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