Vascular Associates of Northern Virginia

Timely and considerate care of the arterial and venous systems.

Carotid Artery Disease

Carotid Anatomy

The carotid arteries are the main arteries supplying the brain with oxygen rich blood.  There is one on each side of the neck.  In general, the carotid arteries originate directly from the aortic arch or from branches off the aortic arch.  Each carotid artery system begins with a common carotid artery which splits into an internal carotid artery (ICA) and an external carotid artery (ECA).

The ECA supplies blood to the face while the ICA supplies blood to the brain.  There are also the vertebral arteries on each side of the neck.  These are smaller arteries carrying blood to the brain as well.  All of these arteries have muscular walls with a smooth inner surface.

Carotid Artery Disease

This refers to either narrowing or blockage of the carotid arteries.  The arteries are normally smooth and unobstructed.  As a person ages, plaque begins to develop on the wall of the arteries.  Plaque is a sticky material made up of different components, such as cholesterol, fibers, and calcium.  As the plaque continues to build up, the arteries start to narrow and harden.  This is a process called atherosclerosis. It is the same process that occurs in the legs or arms causing peripheral artery disease or PAD.

The surface of the plaque could either be smooth or rough. A rough surface increases the chance of developing a blood clot which might break off and travel in the blood stream increasing the chance of a brain stroke.

Risk Factors

Some of the risk factors for carotid artery disease are:

  • Smoking
  • High blood pressure (Hypertension)
  • High cholesterol
  • Diabetes
  • Family history
  • Obesity
  • Age
  • Other medical conditions such as fibromuscular dysplasia


It might be difficult to discover carotid artery disease in its early stages because it might not cause any symptoms.  Unfortunately, a stroke might be the first indication of a carotid artery disease.  Therefore, one should be familiar with stroke symptoms.  So some of the common signs and symptoms of a stroke include:

  • Inability to speak, difficulty speaking, or impairment of speech.
  • Vision problems, such as blindness or shadowing over the eye.
  • Weakness in either side of the body or face.
  • Numbness or tingling in either side of the body or face.
  • Dizziness or vertigo.
  • Headaches.
  • Losing consciousness or passing out, known as syncope.

It is important to recognize these symptoms and seek immediate medical attention if they do occur.  Before developing a complete stroke, or a cerebrovascular accident (CVA), some people might have a mini-stroke or a transient ischemic attack (TIA).  In a TIA, the symptoms completely resolve within 24 hours.  Therefore, a TIA could be a warning sign and the person should get immediate medical attention because their risk of having a CVA have increased.


If your physician suspects carotid artery disease, he or she might order one or more of specific diagnostic imaging studies.  These studies are:

  • Carotid duplex or ultrasound.
  • Computerized tomographic angiography (CTA).
  • Magnetic resonance angiography (MRA).
  • Angiography.


A treatment plan is developed depending on the condition of the patient and the severity of the disease.  Carotid artery disease could be treated with medications, surgery, or angioplasty and stenting.  That is why it is extremely important to seek immediate medical attention when any of the above mentioned signs and symptoms of a stroke occur.


The best prevention is not to have the disease.  Proper lifestyle modifications can help decrease the risk of having carotid artery disease especially if you have any of the risk factors mentioned above. For example, if you smoke try to quit and if you have high cholesterol or over weight then change to a healthy diet and exercise regularly.  Lifestyle modifications not only could prevent having the disease it could also help stop or slow down the progression of the disease.  So it is important to start early and stay healthy.

Note:   This blog post is intended for information only.  It is not meant to replace a professional medical opinion.  If you are suspecting any medical problems, please seek professional medical attention.  If you are having an emergency, please call 911.


Vascular Associates of Northern Virginia, P.C.
Vascular Laboratory

Our Physicians:
Robert S. Podolsky, M.D.
Avisesh Sahgal, M.D.


This entry was posted on December 2, 2014 by in Vascular Information and tagged , , , , , .
%d bloggers like this: