Carotid artery disease is a type of Vascular disease.  It occurs when fatty deposits (known as plaque) clog the blood vessels from your heart to your brain. We ask one of our vascular surgeon’s, Dr Taumeopeau what you need to know. 

Fast Facts about Carotid Artery Disease:

  • It is an under-recognized disease
  • Requires medical diagnosis
  • Diagnosis:  is a physical exam, a blood test, and ultrasound. Sometimes further imaging like a CT or MRI scan are required. 
  • It is very treatable by a Vascular or Medical Specialist.
  • Lifestyle changes are often suggested and recommended.

What exactly is a Carotid Artery?

An artery is a ‘blood vessel’ that carries blood from your heart to your organs, brain and limbs.

What is Carotid Artery Disease?

It is usually the build-up of plague.  This causes your carotid arteries to narrow, limiting blood flow from the heart to the brain. 

How do I know if I have Carotid Artery Disease?

This is a disease that may not cause signs or symptoms until it severely narrows or blocks the affected artery.  Sadly vascular disease in older patients is a lesser known health condition that requires the same diligent monitoring as more prominent health conditions.  Although this is under-recognized,  there is good news – vascular disease is very easy to diagnose.  Speak with your GP if you are concerned about vascular disease.  Your GP will do a physical exam.  During this exam, they may listen to your carotid arteries with a stethoscope.  It is normal to hear a ‘whooshing’ sound called a ‘bruit’.  The sound may suggest narrowing of your carotid arteries, if so, your GP may refer you to a  vascular surgeon. 

8 Risk Factors for Carotid Artery Disease:

  1. Smoking
  2. Diabetes
  3. Age – persons over 60
  4. Family history
  5. High Blood Pressure
  6. Obesity
  7. High Cholesterol
  8. Lack of exercise

What are complications of Carotid Artery Disease? 

  • Reduced blood flow to your brain
  • Ruptured plaques – a piece of fatty plaque may break off and makes its way into smaller arteries in the brain.  These plaques can block blood flow to the brain and cause;
    • TIA (Transient Ischemic Attack – or mini-stroke) or
    • Strokes  There are 2 types:
      • Ischemic (the most common) or
      • Hemorrhagic

How is Carotid Artery Disease diagnosed?

  • Physical examination by one of our vascular specialists, Mr. JK Wicks or Dr Taumeopeau.  During this exam, an SVH specialist will take a full history, do a physical examination and send for a painless and non invasive ultrasound test.
  • Carotid ultrasound:  This procedure that can be done by our own sonographer (ultrasound technician) at Specialist Vein Health.  It takes between 30-60 minutes.   This ultrasound test can show blockages or narrowing in your arteries.  The results help your surgeon decide if you need further tests and plan out the best treatment for you.  These further tests may include a CTA or MRI scan (all are non invasive). 

What if I do have a blocked or narrowed artery?

If you have minimal or no symptoms and tests show narrowing (often called a stenosis) less than 70% you are often treated with medical management by your vascular specialist and lifestyle changes. 

Patients with 70% or more narrowing are recommended to have what is called a ‘carotid endarterectomy‘.  This is a surgical procedure to open the artery and clean out the plaque, causing the narrowing. This significantly reduces your risk of stroke. 

Are there potential risks with Carotid Endarterectomy?

  • All surgical procedure can have complications – the benefits to your health out way the low risks. 
  • The most common complications are related to the surgical site – bruising or infection.  There is a small risk of stroke during or following the procedure.
  • Your surgeon will discuss all potential risks with you prior to the procedure. 

What can I expect after the procedure?

  • A carotid endarterectomy is considered minor but significant surgical procedure. Patients usually go home 1-3 nights after the operation.
  • Your surgeon will decide how many nights you should stay in hospital following your procedure.
  • We advise you to be driven home.
  • At home, you should avoid heavy lifting, stooping, bending or strenuous exercise for 1 week to allow the wound site to heal fully. Your surgeon and nurse will give you more specific instructions on discharge.
  • An ultrasound will be organised for you within 2 weeks of your procedure by the staff at Specialist Vein Health. 
  • Follow up with your surgeon will be organised 2-4 weeks after the procedure.

Referrals are not always necessary. Contact us today.