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Stroke Carotid Artery Disease


Your carotid arteries are the major blood vessels that deliver blood to your brain. One carotid artery is located on each side of your neck. When your doctor puts their hands on your neck to detect a pulse, they’re feeling one of your carotid arteries. Carotid artery disease occurs when a blockage in one or both of these arteries decreases the amount of blood flow to your brain. This can lead to a stroke. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 795,000 people have a stroke every year in the United States. Most of these strokes are either caused by carotid artery disease or atrial fibrillation, which is an irregular heartbeat. The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute notes that carotid artery disease causes more than half of all strokes in the United States.


What causes carotid artery disease?

Carotid artery disease is typically caused by atherosclerosis, a disease in which plaque builds up in the arteries. A similar buildup occurs in the heart’s blood vessels when someone has coronary artery disease. Plaque contains clumps of:

  • cholesterol
  • fat
  • cellular waste
  • protein
  • calcium

Atherosclerosis can make your carotid arteries narrower and less flexible over time. This limits the amount of blood flow to your organs.

Carotid artery disease can also be the result of other diseases that cause arterial damage.


Risk factors for carotid artery disease

Some conditions can damage your arteries and put you at increased risk of carotid artery disease:

  • High blood pressure can weaken your artery walls and make them more likely to become damaged.
  • High cholesterol is a major risk factor for atherosclerosis.
  • Diabetes can affect your body’s ability to process blood sugar. It increases your risk of high blood pressure and atherosclerosis.
  • Obesity increases your risk of diabetes, high blood pressure, and atherosclerosis.
  • Physical inactivity contributes to high blood pressure, diabetes, and obesity.
  • Smoking can irritate the lining of your arteries. It can also increase your heart rate and blood pressure.
  • Older age makes your arteries stiffer and more susceptible to damage.
  • A family history of atherosclerosis is associated with increased risk of carotid artery disease.