Carotid Artery Blockage
Your carotid arteries deliver oxygen-rich blood to the brain. Cerebrovascular disease can cause blockages that put you at risk for stroke. But a long, healthy life is still possible when you come to the experts at Henry Ford Health.
How can a carotid artery blockage affect my health?
Your carotid arteries are on either side of your neck. They deliver the continuous supply of oxygen-rich blood the brain needs to survive. Carotid artery blockages typically start with fatty deposits that build up on blood vessel walls. Over time, the deposits get bigger, causing narrowing (stenosis) that limits blood flow to the brain.
In severe cases, blood can no longer pass through the artery, leading to ischemic stroke, which deprives the brain of oxygen. This is a medical emergency that requires immediate care. Experts at Henry Ford detect carotid artery occlusions in earlier stages, giving you the best chances of recovery.
Carotid artery blockage care at Henry Ford: Why choose us?
Our cerebrovascular disease team has the highest level of experience in Michigan preventing and treating carotid artery blockages. We deliver emergency treatments and lifelong follow-up care that helps you feel your best for years to come. Meet the team
Highlights of our program include:
- Appropriate care: Our experience with surgical and minimally invasive techniques helps you receive the treatment that’s best for your circumstances. Experts from both disciplines are in regular communication through case conferences, enabling us to tailor therapies for complex cases.
- Focus on prevention: Even with successful treatment, carotid artery stenosis and blockages can come back. We lower this risk with lifelong follow-up services. You receive services from the same group of experts through all phases of care, making it easier to personalize treatments. Explore our cerebrovascular disease clinic.
- Nationally recognized stroke treatment: If you do experience a stroke, you’re in trusted hands. We maintain stroke excellence honors from The Joint Commission and American Heart Association. These accomplishments reflect our commitment to delivering life-saving care and achieving exceptional outcomes. Learn more about stroke services.
Types of carotid artery blockages
Your risk of stroke or other life-threatening complications depends on how severe the blockage is:
- Partial carotid stenosis (or narrowing) means there is up to a 50 percent blockage of blood flow through the carotid artery.
- Total carotid occlusion is a complete blockage of blood flow through the carotid artery.
Carotid artery occlusion symptoms
Carotid artery occlusions do not cause symptoms in early stages. As the blockage grows, it affects blood flow and brain functioning.
You may experience:
- Coordination problems, including challenges with walking or standing
- Difficulty speaking
- Dizziness or confusion
- Weakness in your face, arms or legs on one or both sides
- Vision problems, including double vision
Diagnosing carotid artery occlusions
You have access to any imaging study you may need. We often use noninvasive imaging tests that evaluate blood vessels from outside your body. These include:
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), uses a powerful magnet and radio waves to detect potential blockages.
- Computed tomography (CT) scans involve taking X-rays from different angles. A computer assembles them to create 3D images of cerebrovascular structures. Read more about CT scans.
- Ultrasound captures blood vessel images using a handheld device soundwave. This test helps us determine the impact of an occlusion on blood flow.
For a more detailed evaluation, we use angiography. This procedure assesses blood vessels from within your body with the help of long thin tubes (catheters).
Carotid artery blockage treatment
The treatment that’s best for you depends on the severity of the blockage and other factors, including your medical history.
Your personalized care plan may include:
- Watchful waiting: For partial occlusions, we may recommend delaying treatment. Regular imaging scans help us determine whether the blockage is getting worse. This approach helps you avoid unnecessary procedures.
- Angioplasty and stenting: We access the carotid artery using catheters inserted into the groin and advanced toward your neck. Once we’ve reached the occlusion, we expand a balloon to push away plaque build-ups. We may implant a tiny mesh device (stent) to prevent future carotid artery stenosis.
- Carotid endarterectomy: This procedure involves surgically removing blockages from the carotid artery.
- Lifestyle changes: Certain habits, like smoking and eating an unhealthy diet, raise your risk of total carotid occlusion and stroke. Our tobacco treatment services and other healthy living practices, like becoming more physically active, may lower this risk.