The carotid arteries, two large blood vessels on either side of the neck, supply blood to the brain. Carotid artery disease occurs when these blood vessels narrow, usually because of plaque buildup that fills and hardens the arteries. This condition often does not cause any signs or symptoms until the narrowing is so severe that a stroke or mini-stroke occurs.
Also called transient ischemic attack (TIA), a mini-stroke may look like a stroke, with symptoms such as weakness on one side of the body and trouble speaking. However, these symptoms usually go away within 24 hours. TIA is a warning sign that the patient is at high risk of a stroke, which can lead to permanent disability or death.
Those with obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes are at risk for carotid artery disease and should obtain regular physical examinations. Often, doctors detect carotid artery disease during checkups when listening to these blood vessels through a stethoscope. If the physician hears a distinct sound called a bruit, diagnostic tests, such as a carotid ultrasound or carotid angiography, will be ordered to make a definitive diagnosis.