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 severity of your condition. Your physician may order one or more of these tests:

Carotid artery Doppler and ultrasound (duplex) scan

This noninvasive test uses sound waves to produce pictures of the inside of your carotid arteries and detect plaque.

Cardiac magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)

This scan uses radio waves and magnets to create detailed images and videos of your heart’s chambers, valves, and blood vessels in motion. Learn more about cardiovascular imaging.

Carotid angiogram

Your physician injects a contrast dye into a vein in your arm or leg and takes X-ray images as the dye moves through the carotid arteries.

Computed tomography (CT or CAT) scan

A series of X-rays taken from different angles provides detailed images of your heart.

Computed tomography angiogram (CTA)

Your physician injects a contrast dye into a vein in your arm or leg and uses a CT scan to monitor blood flow.

Magnetic resonance angiogram (MRA)

Your physician injects a contrast dye into a vein in your leg and uses magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) technology to check blood flow as the dye moves through your arteries and vessels.

Treating carotid artery disease at AHN

Treatment for carotid artery disease depends on your specific health situation. Our team works with you to develop the most effective treatment plan. Learn more about carotid artery procedures.

Carotid artery disease care at AHN: Why choose us?

Our team is known for providing exceptional heart disease care. Here, you benefit from:

Minimally invasive procedures

We specialize in minimally invasive heart surgery techniques, including a catheter-based angioplasty and stenting procedure to open arteries. For you, this surgical approach means less pain, a faster return to daily activities, and reduced blood loss.

Personalized treatment

Our team taps the expertise of physicians from different fields. We develop a treatment plan specific to your health condition and needs. AHN participates in clinical trials for carotid artery stenting and new therapies at the Cardiovascular Research Institute.

Depth of expertise

At AHN, you receive top-notch medical care from a team of heart specialists with deep expertise in their fields. Our physicians work collaboratively to provide a prompt diagnosis and an effective treatment plan.

Lifelong care

Carotid artery disease is a chronic, lifelong condition. As nutrition and exercise specialists, we can help you make lifestyle changes to improve your heart health at our cardiovascular rehabilitation program.

Contact us


If you have not been formally diagnosed yet, call (412) DOCTORS (412) 362-8677 or request an appointment with a general cardiologist to be evaluated.

Scheduling a procedure

If you have a referral for a carotid artery procedure, call (412) NURSE-4-U (412) 687-7348 to schedule your procedure.