What is Carotid Artery Disease?

Carotid artery disease is a narrowing of one or both carotid arteries in the neck. These are the main blood vessels carrying blood from the heart to the brain. The narrowing is caused by cholesterol or plaque build-up called atherosclerosis. Blood clots can form in this area and travel to the brain, causing a stroke.

This disease often does not have signs or symptoms in the early stages. The first sign can sometimes be a stroke or TIA (transient ischemic attack) also called mini-strokes.

A person having a stroke needs immediate medical attention. Know the signs of a stroke:

FACE DROOPING – Smile. Is the smile uneven or is one side drooping?
ARM WEAKNESS – Raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward or is one arm weak or numb?
SPEECH DIFFICULTY – Repeat a simple sentence. Is the sentence repeated correctly?
TIME TO CALL 9-1-1 – Call 9-1-1 if you show any of these symptoms, even if the symptoms disappear.

Even if you experience these symptoms only briefly, you may have experienced TIA which is a temporary blockage.

Diagnosis of Carotid Artery Disease

Carotid artery disease often does not have early signs and symptoms, so it is important to know your risk factors and discuss them with your primary care provider.

Risk Factors:

  • High blood pressure
  • Tobacco use
  • Diabetes
  • High blood-fat levels
  • Family history
  • Age
  • Obesity
  • Sleep apnea
  • Lack of exercise

Some people should consider screening for carotid artery disease. Guthrie offers one vascular screening for three conditions including Carotid Artery Disease. Consider screening if you:

  • Have a family history of stroke
  • Are diabetic
  • Are a current or former smoker
  • Are over the age of 40 and have high cholesterol
  • Have blockages in the arteries in your legs

How is carotid artery disease treated?

You can take preventative measures to reduce your risk of developing the disease:

  • Stop smoking
  • Manage your blood pressure
  • Treat high cholesterol
  • Manage diabetes
  • Eat a heart-healthy diet low in salt, fat and processed foods, increase vegetable and fruits
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Be active – 30 minutes a day, five days a week

With severe carotid artery disease, it is important to unclog the artery in order to reduce the risk of stroke. Plaque can be surgically removed or the area can be opened with angioplasty and held open with a stent.  

At Guthrie, our vascular surgeons perform a hybrid procedure called Transcarotid Arterial Revascularization (TCAR). During angioplasty and stenting, blood from the artery is filtered outside the body to remove any debris that may come loose and cause a stroke.

Vascular Care at Guthrie

  • Our vascular surgery physicians are specially trained in vascular surgery and are board-certified.
  • Guthrie Heart and Vascular Care Center, located in Guthrie Robert Packer Hospital, is a state-of-the-art space for heart and vascular surgeries and procedures. Located near the emergency department and ICU, there are private patient rooms, cardiac catheterization labs, and a hybrid operating room. The unit is centered around quick efficient care of our patients.
  • Hybrid operating room – a state-of-the-art operating room with real-time, high-resolution digital imaging capabilities allowing for complex surgeries and studies to take place simultaneously with an integrated team of heart and valve specialists.

Guthrie heart surgeons are part of the largest cardiac care team in the northern Pa. and southern N.Y. Your heart is in good hands at Guthrie.

Guthrie interventional cardiology has advanced training in cardiac catheterization, performing ablation, stenting, angioplasty other structural heart procedures.

Our electrophysiology doctors and arrhythmia center teams help treat patients with arrhythmia issues like aFib using pacemakers or procedures like ablation.  

Guthrie Cardiac and Vascular team treats patients with circulatory diseases: abdominal aortic aneurysm, carotid artery disease, and peripheral artery disease.