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 - Northwestern Memorial Hospital - Chicago

Carotid Artery Disease

Carotid artery disease, or carotid artery stenosis, is a narrowing of the carotid arteries. These two blood vessels carry blood to the brain. Things such as:

  • Age
  • Unhealthy lifestyle
  • High cholesterol

can lead to carotid artery disease. Plaque and other fatty substances can line these arteries, narrowing them. This restricts bloodflow, and can lead to stroke.

Signs & Symptoms

You may not even know you have carotid artery disease until you experience a transient ischemic attack (TIA) or a stroke. Any stroke symptoms may be indicative of carotid artery disease.

Diagnosis & Testing

Your doctor can test for carotid artery disease during a routine checkup. In addition to your medical history and a physical exam, your doctor may do the following:

  • Arteriography: X-ray of the carotid artery using a special dye injected into another artery
  • Digital subtraction angiography (DSA): X-ray of the carotid artery that uses less dye
  • Doppler ultrasound imaging: Noninvasive test using sound waves to image the carotid artery
  • Magnetic resonance angiography (MRA): Creates images of the arteries in the brain

A computed tomography (CT) scan may also be used. This is not used to detect carotid artery disease; it is used to rule out other possible causes of stroke symptoms.


The most common surgery for removing fatty deposits in the carotid artery is carotid endarterectomy. This surgery can reduce the risk of stroke by as much as 55 percent, and can help prevent stroke in patients who previously had a stroke.

Last UpdateApril 30, 2012