Carotid Artery Disease
Your carotid arteries are located on each side of your neck and provide bloodflow to your brain. They can become blocked just like the arteries in your heart or in other parts of your body. If that happens, it could potentially lead to a stroke.
Symptoms that you need to be aware of include dizziness, visual disturbances, "blackout" episodes, numbness or tingling in your face, arms, or hands, slurred speech, or unsteady gait. If you experience any of these symptoms, tell your doctor right away. He may need to perform tests to determine whether you have a blockage.
Risk factors for carotid artery disease include age over 50, use of tobacco, diabetes, overweight, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and not exercising regularly.
Reducing Your Risk
You can't do anything about your age, but you can have an influence on the other risk factors. If you smoke, you should stop. If you find that you cannot do it alone, High Point Regional Health System has a simple program called QuitSmart that can give you strategies to help you be successful. However, the commitment begins with you. If you are overweight, ask your doctor about seeing a nutritionist who can help you learn about a balanced low fat diet. Starting a regular exercise program can help you in two ways. It can help reduce your weight and improve your circulation. If you have high blood pressure and are taking medication for it, you should monitor it carefully and report high trends to your doctor. Be sure to take your medication as prescribed. If you are diabetic, monitor your blood sugars closely and report high trends to your doctor. It is very important to keep your sugar levels within an appropriate range. Should you need surgery, healing will take place faster if your sugars are not too high.
If your doctor examines you and determines that you do have a significant blockage, he may send you to see a doctor who specializes in the removal of that blockage. This is a surgical procedure called a carotid endarterectomy. A small 4-6 inch incision is made on the side of your neck. The blocked artery is exposed and sometimes blood is rerouted around the blockage by using a shunt. If your doctor feels your blood flow on the opposite side is strong, he may not use a shunt. The plaque is removed and the artery is closed. After surgery, your throat will feel sore and your neck may feel a little numb around the incision site, neither of these lasts for very long. You can usually be out of bed the night after surgery. Time in the hospital is only 1-2 days.