Carotid artery disease occurs when the carotid arteries become narrowed or blocked. The major cause of carotid artery disease is atherosclerosis. This is a slow process in which deposits of fat, cholesterol, and calcium build up inside the artery. These deposits are called plaque. Like the inside of a rusty water pipe, the wall of the artery becomes rough, hard, and more narrow.
Atherosclerosis mainly affects the major blood vessels of the body, but it occurs to some extent in all arteries. Decreased blood flow to the brain results when the carotid arteries are narrowed.
Small blood clots may form on the plaque's rough surface. A clot can break loose and travel to the brain. This is called an embolus. An embolus can lodge in a small artery and stop blood flow to that part of the brain. Both a narrow artery and an embolus can result in a stroke. A stroke is also called a cerebrovascular accident (CVA). Stroke is one of the leading causes of death in the United States.
For more information regarding stroke prevention, please contact the Bluhm Cardiovascular Institute at 1-866-662-8467, or request an appointment online.