What are the symptoms of carotid artery disease?

Although there are no symptoms specific to carotid artery disease, the warning signs of a stroke are a good way to tell if there is a blockage in the carotid arteries. A Transient Ischemic Attack (also called TIA or “mini-stroke”) is one of the most important warning signs that you may soon have a stroke. A TIA is a temporary episode of:

  • blurred or loss of vision in one or both eyes
  • weakness and/or numbness of your arm, leg or face on one side of your body
  • slurring of speech, difficulty talking or understanding what others are saying
  • loss of coordination, dizziness or confusion, fainting
  • trouble swallowing
  • sudden, severe headache with no known cause

A TIA may last for a few minutes or a few hours. A TIA is a medical emergency since it is impossible to predict if it will progress into a major stroke. If you or someone you knows experiences these symptoms, get help! It is possible for a Neurointerventionalist to limit the effects of acute stroke. However, patients MUST BE TREATED WITHIN 6 HOURS after the onset of a stroke. Immediate treatment of a stroke can save your life or increase your chance of full recovery.

How is carotid artery disease diagnosed?

Since carotid artery disease may not have symptoms, it is important for those at risk to have regular physical exams by their doctor. A doctor will listen to the arteries in your neck with a stethoscope. An abnormal rushing sound, called a Bruit (BREW-ee) may indicate you have carotid artery disease. But, the results of this test can be misleading. Bruit sounds may not always be present, even when carotid artery disease is severe. Also, bruit sounds are sometimes heard when blockages are only minor. It is important to let your doctor know if you have had any symptoms, such as those listed above.
Diagnostic tests include:

  • Carotid Duplex Ultrasound – An imaging procedure that uses high-frequency sound waves to view the blood vessels in the neck and to determine the presence of narrowing in the carotid arteries. This study is recommended for anyone with heart disease and anyone over the age of 60.
  • Carotid Angiography (carotid angiogram, carotid arteriogram, carotid angio) – If carotid artery disease is suspected, prior to treatment, your doctor may schedule an arteriogram. This is an invasive imaging procedure that involves inserting a catheter into a blood vessel in the arm or leg, and guiding it to the carotid arteries with the aid of a special x-ray machine. Contrast dye is injected through the catheter so that x-ray movies can be taken of your carotid arteries .
  • Computerized Tomography (CT Scan) – a special CT of the brain called a CTA (CT Angiogram) may be performed to detect narrowing of the carotid arteries.
  • MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) – a special MRI of the brain called a MRA (Magnetic Resonance Angiogram) may also be performed to detect narrowing of the carotid arteries.