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How Carotid Artery Disease Can Lead to Stroke

July 27, 2021

Carotid arteries nestled on both sides of your neck deliver oxygen-rich blood to the front of the brain. This area of the brain handles our thinking, speaking, motor and personality functions. Blockage in these arteries – known as carotid artery disease – could be putting you at risk for a stroke.

Dr. Parth Shah

“We’ve been seeing higher number of cases involving carotid artery disease. These patients are presenting with symptoms, specifically a stroke, and we’re having to go in and perform surgery,” said Parth Shah, MD, Director of Vascular and Endovascular Surgery at The Hospital of Central Connecticut, which has been recognized by the American Stroke Association for its ability to reverse the effects of a stroke.

Carotid artery disease is the narrowing of the artery due to cholesterol and fat sticking to the walls of the vessel, forming plaque.

“Plaque building up in the carotid artery is usually caused by smoking, high blood pressure and diabetes. When a piece of the plaque breaks away, it results in a stroke,” says Dr. Shah.

Usually, there are no warning signs or symptoms of carotid artery disease until it’s too late and a patient has had a mini or massive stroke. But Dr. Shah says people with pre-existing high-risk conditions should be seeing a doctor and getting their carotid arteries examined.

Those conditions include:

  • Atherosclerosis: thickening or hardening of the arteries caused by a buildup of plaque.
  • Coronary artery disease: buildup of plaque in the arteries that supply blood to your heart.
  • Peripheral artery disease: reduced blood flow, specifically in the lower extremities, due to narrowing of blood vessels.

Dr. Shah says treating carotid artery disease includes changes in lifestyle, medications and different methods of surgery to remove the buildup of plaque in the carotid artery and improve blood flow, to prevent a stroke. The Hospital of Central Connecticut is also using a new procedure, known as Transcarotid Artery Revascularization (TCAR).

“We make a small incision just above the collarbone and temporarily reverse blood flow from the brain through a vein in the groin, so if there’s the risk of plaque breaking loose during surgery, it will not go to the brain,” says Dr. Shah. “This technique is really a game-changer.”

The American Stroke association recommends using the acronym FAST to spot signs of a stroke:

  • (F) Face Drooping: Does one side of the face droop or is it numb? Ask the person to smile. Is the person’s smile uneven or lopsided?
  • (A) Arm Weakness: Is one arm weak or numb? Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?
  • (S) Speech: Is speech slurred? Is the person unable to speak or hard to understand? Ask the person to repeat a simple sentence.
  • (T) Time to Call 9-1-1.

Dr. Parth Shah is the director of Vascular and Endovascular Surgery at The Hospital of Central Connecticut. For more information about vascular health, click here  or call Dr. Shah’s office at 860.223.0800.