Understanding Carotid Artery Disease

Millions of people each year face the unsettling reality that comes with a diagnosis of poor health. Everything from diabetes to cancer to asthma can stop you in your tracks and cause you to reevaluate your approach to life and healthy living.

If you are one of the many who has been diagnosed with carotid artery disease, you may be searching for answers to a variety of questions. Arming yourself with information on the disease is the first step toward understanding why carotid arteries are important, what treatments are available, and if there are practical ways you can take charge of your own care.

What is Carotid Artery Disease?

The arteries that provide passage of blood to the head and subsequently the brain are a vital part of your overall health. If anything happens to those arteries, the human body is subject to potentially deadly results.

Like any other organ in the body, the brain depends on a steady flow of blood to survive and thrive. With carotid artery disease, excess fat builds up in the artery, causing a blockage and stopping or seriously slowing the supply of blood to the brain.

Signs and Symptoms

When blockages occur, the possibility of a stroke happening increases significantly. Strokes are a serious condition, depriving your brain of life-giving oxygen and stopping the brain’s ability to function.

Signs and symptoms of a carotid artery are often the same as a stroke. They include numbness of the face, weakness in the limbs, difficulty speaking or understanding what is being said, difficulty with vision, feeling dizzy, and having what could be described as ‘the worst headache of your life’.

Learn more about strokes from the National Stroke Association. Understanding the signs and symptoms and the ways to avoid and treat a stroke can save your life or the life of someone you love.

Treatments

Fortunately, modern medicine holds many options for the treatment of carotid artery disease. Lifestyle changes, often including medication to control such things as high blood pressure and high cholesterol, is highly recommended for each patient to take a proactive approach to correcting the illness.

Additionally, you may be one of those who requires further care, such as:

  • Carotid Endarterectomy: This surgical procedure typically occurs following a stroke. A surgeon will repair the damaged artery through an incision at the front of the neck. By removing the excess plaque build-up, they clear the way for better blood flow.
  • Carotid Angioplasty and Stenting: For those who are not good candidates for surgery, this procedure is accomplished when a small balloon is inserted through a catheter. When positioned properly, the balloon is inflated and widens the space available for blood to flow unrestricted. A stent (or wire mesh) is put in place to prevent future blockages from occurring. Carotid stenting is a great option when the blockage is in a hard to reach position, or if the patient is too unstable healthwise to survive an invasive surgery.

Take Charge of Your Health

Receiving a diagnosis of carotid artery disease is not a death sentence. There are choices you can make in your daily life to lessen the symptoms and even ultimately correct the damage that has been done. Obviously, check with your doctor for the best course of action–then follow their advice like your life depends on it. Because the truth is, in many cases, it does.

Some proactive choices you can make to better your health include:

  • Eating healthy
  • Losing weight
  • Lowering stress
  • Managing blood sugar levels
  • Stop smoking
  • Increase exercise
  • Lower high blood pressure and cholesterol
  • Maintain a steady regimen of prescribed medication

Taking the Next Step Toward Wellness

Living a long healthy life starts with understanding not only the disease you’ve been diagnosed with but also the treatment options available. Have an honest conversation with your doctor, asking questions and expressing concerns. Ultimately, your recovery and healing will depend on a partnership between your medical team of doctors and surgeons and you, making the best lifestyle changes you can to more forward in your own wellness.