A carotid artery blockage is when the carotid, or neck artery becomes obstructed. This condition can cause a heart attack, stroke, or blood clot. Symptoms of a carotid artery blockage include dizziness, fainting, and lightheadedness. When the neck artery is blocked by plaque buildup, an abnormal sound can sometimes be heard when a stethoscope is held against the artery. The presence of this abnormal sound does not confirm the diagnosis of carotid artery blockage, however.
The buildup of plaque not only can cause an arterial blockage of the carotid arteries, it can also cause other coronary arteries to become blocked. When this occurs, measures need to be taken to restore blood flow. An ultrasound of the carotid arteries can frequently determine the condition, as can an angiogram, which is a test that uses a guided catheter to detect blocked arteries.
Risk factors for carotid artery blockage include a family history, smoking, high-fat diet, and diabetes. With the exception of family history, most other risk factors can be modified to decrease risk. For example, managing diabetes though diet, exercise, and medication can reduce risk, as can abstaining from smoking and eating a healthy diet that is low in saturated fat. The physician can recommend treatment options to modify risk factors and minimize the risk of carotid artery stenosis.
Another important risk factor for arterial blockage is high cholesterol. Medications to lower cholesterol, called statins, are highly effective in lowering total cholesterol levels in the blood. In addition to lowering the total cholesterol, stains raise "good cholesterol" levels and lower "bad cholesterol" levels. When cholesterol is effectively managed, the risk for carotid artery blockage goes down.
When symptoms of a carotid artery blockage emerge, chances are the disease is extensive and may need surgical intervention in order to restore blood flow. A surgical procedure that can break apart plaque and remove it from the artery is often very successful in cleaning out the blocked artery. This surgical procedure is not without risk and the operation needs to be discussed with the physician to make sure it is an appropriate option.
Sometimes, both neck arteries can be blocked. When this is the case, the risk of heart attack or stroke is even higher. Fortunately, treatment is generally very successful in eliminating the blockage so that adequate blood flow can resume. As with any other illness, the sooner it is detected and treated, the more likely a positive outcome will result.