Carotid Artery Disease

What is carotid artery disease? Carotid artery disease occurs when the main blood vessels (carotid arteries) that carry blood and oxygen to the brain narrow due to blockages. Plaque deposits made up of cholesterol, fat, and other substances can build up in your arteries, causing atherosclerosis. This condition, also known as narrowing or hardening of the arteries, puts you at risk for life-threatening strokes.

Cardiologists and vascular surgeons at Allegheny Health Network (AHN) Cardiovascular Institute are leaders in using advanced diagnostic technology and minimally invasive procedures to diagnose and treat carotid artery disease and lower your stroke risk.

Stages of carotid artery disease

The carotid arteries are two large blood vessels that supply oxygen-rich blood to the front part of the brain. This part of the brain is responsible for speech, thinking, personality, and motor functions. The carotid arteries have a pulse that can be felt on each side of your neck. Carotid artery disease, also known as carotid artery stenosis, happens when these arteries accumulate fatty substances and develop atherosclerosis (hardening). Over time, the buildup of fatty substances narrows and blocks the carotid arteries.

In the early stages, a person may only have mild carotid artery disease. This is classified as an artery that has 15% to 49% blockage. Over time, this narrowing can progress and lead to stroke.

Carotid artery disease symptoms

Symptoms of carotid artery disease, also referred to as carotid artery stenosis, aren’t typically present during the early stages. The condition may go undetected until it’s serious enough to cause a stroke or transient ischemic attack (TIA).

Signs of a stroke or TIA include:

  • Sudden difficulty speaking. 
  • Sudden and severe headache.
  • Sudden dizziness.
  • Sudden numbness in the face or limbs (often only on one side of the body).
  • Sudden visual impairment.

Life expectancy with a blocked carotid artery will depend on how narrow the artery is.

Diagnosing carotid artery disease at AHN

Our physicians use the most advanced imaging methods to get exceptional views of your heart. These diagnostic tools help determine the cause and sev