WHEN MOST PEOPLE HEAR THE WORDS “HARDENING OF THE ARTERIES” or “atherosclerosis,” they think of a heart attack. But when fat and cholesterol deposits (plaque) build up in carotid arteries in the neck, it can increase the risk of stroke, the fourth-leading cause of death in America and a major cause of adult disability.
“Carotids are large arteries on each side of the neck that carry blood to the large front part of the brain,” explains Rishi Roy, MD, of Baptist Heart. “This area is responsible for thinking, speech, personality and sensory and motor functions.”
A stroke can occur when a blood clot in the carotid artery blocks blood flow to the brain or breaks off from a plaque deposit, travels to the brain and lodges in a smaller artery there. Without oxygen, these brain cells die quickly, impacting speech, memory and other functions.
TIAs: A Warning Light
Some people experience symptoms of transient ischemic attacks (TIA) before a stroke occurs. Symptoms include:
:: Weakness, numbness or tingling on one side of your body
:: Inability to control the movement in an arm or leg
:: Losing vision in one eye
:: Not being able to speak clearly
The only difference between a stroke and TIA is that with TIA the blockage is temporary. TIA symptoms occur rapidly and last less than five minutes. “About a third of people who experience TIA go on to have a stroke within a year,” cautions Dr. Roy.
What help is available for carotid artery disease?
Treatment for carotid artery disease depends on its seriousness. Your doctor may first recommend lifestyle changes and medications to lower cholesterol levels. Surgery may be recommended if those do not help or if transient ischemic attacks (TIA, also referred to as mini stroke) symptoms or stroke have already happened.
If you experience any symptoms, speak with your physician. If the symptoms last longer or are more severe, call 911.