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two large carotid arteriesHow to find Out if You Have Carotid Artery Disease

Physical exam– Your physician may suspect carotid artery disease based on your symptoms. He or she will listen to your carotid artery blood flow by placing a stethoscope on both sides of your neck. A "whooshing" sound or bruit indicates there may be a narrowing, and your doctor will order further diagnostic testing.

Doppler testing– An ultrasound technician will perform this noninvasive, painless test by passing a sensor over the neck area where the carotid arteries are located. The sensor generates sound waves that bounce off the arteries. The echo that bounces back is measured, and changes in frequency measure the flow of blood. There will be a difference in flow in narrowed areas.

Arteriogram– A vascular interventionalist will inject dye into your arteries through a catheter placed in a small incision in your groin area. It shows a "roadmap" on a computer screen of the blood flow to determine a narrowing. 

How Carotid Artery Disease is Treated

The treatment of carotid artery disease depends on the amount of narrowing. For blockages less than 50%, medical management is the usual treatment. This includes risk factor management and possibly blood thinners. Blockages between 50% and 70% are treated medically unless you are exhibiting symptoms of stroke or TIA. Stenting or surgery may be recommended for blockages with symptoms greater than 50% and when greater than 70% without symptoms.

Stenting– A vascular interventionalist opens the blocked carotid artery by placing an expanding balloon within the blood vessel , pushing aside the plaque and allowing  a new lining to form within the stent. The procedure is performed through a catheter inserted into a blood vessel at the groin site.

Lifestyle modifications– You can cut your risk of carotid artery disease and stroke with the same lifestyle changes as are recommended for heart disease. If you smoke, quit. Drink no more than two alcoholic beverages daily. Maintain a healthy weight through proper diet and at least 30 minutes of exercise daily. Finally, "know your numbers" – keep track of your blood pressure and cholesterol by routine physician follow-ups.


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