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Carotid artery disease occurs when the carotid arteries, the main blood vessels to the brain, develop a buildup of plaque caused by atherosclerosis. When the buildup becomes very severe, it can cause a stroke. A stroke occurs when part of the brain is damaged by vascular problems. This can paralyze the arms or legs, affect the ability to speak or eat and can even be fatal.

Who’s At Risk
You are at a higher risk for stroke due to carotid artery disease if you have high blood pressure or cholesterol, irregular heartbeat, diabetes, are a smoker, have already had a stroke or if you have a family history of strokes.

Symptoms to Look For
The main warning signs for a stroke are sudden weakness, slurring of speech, paralysis of an arm or leg, dizziness and blurry eyesight. Call 911 immediately if you have these stroke symptoms.

Most cases of carotid artery disease do not require treatment — developing some plaque in the carotid arteries is normal as one ages. But when plaque causes a blockage of 60 to 70% or more, or causes transient ischemic attacks, or “mini-strokes,” treatment may be required.

A surgical procedure called a carotid endarterectomy (CEA) has been shown to be the best defense against strokes due to severe carotid artery disease. After the CEA procedure, more than 90% of patients are free from stroke and have normal carotid arteries for the rest of their lives.

For more information or to make an appointment with The Vascular Center at UM BWMC, call 410-553-8300.