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Vascular Conditions

Carotid Artery Disease

Also known as: Carotid artery stenosis

The carotid arteries (right and left) are major vessels that supply blood to the head and neck. When plaque builds up in the carotid artery this is called carotid artery disease. Over the course of time, inflammatory substances and cholesterol in the body build up in the artery walls forming atherosclerosis (also known as plaque). As plaque continues to build up, the artery gradually hardens and becomes narrower. This ultimately leads to the brain not getting enough blood supply (which carries oxygen and essential nutrients).

A piece of this plaque can be broken off from one place in the artery and a process called atherothrombosis is triggered. At the site of the break-off, a blood clot (thrombus) is formed. If the plaque blocks the carotid artery, a stroke or a transient ischemic attack (a temporary or mini-stroke) can occur. This is a medical emergency. If it continues for more than 3 to 4 minutes, it could lead to permanent brain damage and/or disability.


Due to atherosclerosis in the carotid arteries (right and/or left) of the neck.

Note: Not everyone may experience all symptoms

  • Stress
  • Sedentary lifestyle
  • Eating a diet low in fruits and vegetables
  • Smoking or the use of other tobacco products
  • High LDL (bad cholesterol)
  • Low HDL (good cholesterol)
  • High blood pressure
  • High blood pressure in pregnancy (pre-eclampsia)
  • Diabetes
  • Obesity
  • Kidney Disease
  • Abdominal obesity
  • Family history
  • Heavy alcohol use
  • Illicit drug use
  • Autoimmune diseases (Rheumatoid Arthritis, Lupus, etc.)
  • Age – more common in older individuals

Learn more

Prasad K. Pathophysiology and Medical Treatment of Carotid Artery Stenosis. Int J Angiol. 2015;24(3):158-172. doi:10.1055/s-0035-1554911
Grotta JC. Clinical practice. Carotid stenosis. N Engl J Med. 2013;369(12):1143-1150. doi:10.1056/NEJMcp1214999
Morales-Valero SF, Lanzino G. Asymptomatic carotid artery stenosis: time to rethink our therapeutic options?. Neurosurg Focus. 2014;36(1):E2. doi:10.3171/2013.10.FOCUS13389
Barrett KM, et al. Stroke caused by extracranial disease. Circulation Research. 2017;120:496.
Saha SP, Whayne TF Jr, Mukherjee D. Evidence-based management of carotid artery disease. Int J Angiol. 2010;19(1):e21-e24. doi:10.1055/s-0031-1278367