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 - Northwestern Memorial Hospital - Chicago

Carotid Artery Disease and Stroke Prevention

The carotid arteries provide the majority of blood flow to the brain. Carotid artery disease occurs when the carotid arteries become narrowed or blocked. The major cause of carotid artery disease is atherosclerosis, a slow process in which deposits of fat, cholesterol and calcium build up inside an artery, also known as plaque.

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Risk Factors

Risk factors are habits, traits or conditions that may increase a person's chance of developing atherosclerosis. Risk factors that cannot be changed include:

  • Age
  • Family history of stroke
  • Gender (male or post-menopausal female)

Risk factors that can be controlled or modified include:

  • Blood clotting disorders
  • Cigarette smoking
  • Diabetes
  • Heart disease
  • High blood cholesterol
  • High blood pressure


When symptoms of a stroke occur for only a brief period of time, it is called a mini-stroke, also known as a transient ischemic attack (TIA). Transient means brief and ischemic means a shortage of blood supply. The symptom may last from a few seconds to many hours, but it must go away within 24 hours to be called a TIA. If the symptoms last longer than 24 hours, a stroke has occurred. People who have a TIA related to carotid artery disease are at higher risk of having a major stroke at a later date.

Symptoms of carotid artery disease and/or stroke depend on the part of the brain that is affected. Each part of the brain controls certain parts of the body. For example, when an artery to the eye is blocked or narrowed, vision may be affected. However, a stroke or mini-stroke may occur with no warning signs or symptoms. Symptoms may include:

  • Inability to speak clearly or understand what is being said
  • Loss of vision in one eye
  • Weakness or inability to move an arm or leg


Diagnosis of carotid artery disease is made using the following tests:


Learn more about carotid artery disease and stroke prevention treatment.

Clinical Trials

Ongoing clinical research trials at the Center for Vascular Disease are investigating new treatment options for carotid artery disease to ensure that our patients continue to receive the most innovative care in the country. For more information regarding these clinical trials, visit the Clinical Trials Unit of Northwestern, send an email or call 312-926-4000.

Contact Us Today

For more information regarding carotid artery disease and stroke prevention, please contact the Bluhm Cardiovascular Institute at 866-662-8467. To schedule an appointment, please call 312-695-4965 or request a first-time appointment online.


Last UpdateFebruary 15, 2013