The significance of diagnosing carotid artery disease before a blockage is very important. The disease that causes the blockage increases the risk for a stroke in three ways: restricted blood flow to the brain, a blood clot becoming stuck in the already narrowed artery or plaque breaking off from the artery and becoming lodged in the smaller veins in the brain. Without a constant flow of blood to the brain, the tissues will quickly become depleted of oxygen and die.
Carotid artery blockage is a very serious situation that can be lived with for years before symptoms present themselves. The risk does increase with age as the arteries thicken with plaque and lose their elasticity. Some people can live their whole lives with a degree of blockage in their carotid artery and never even realize it, which is why sometimes doctors will not take any action when they find partial blockage in a patient of advanced age. However, when a patient has the prospect of a good quality of life for many years, doctors will pay close attention to the symptoms of any carotid artery blockage.
Identification of Risk Factors
By the time you realize you have a carotid artery blockage, it is often too late as the result is often devastating. The key is to recognize the risk factors that will increase the possibility of your carotid artery being blocked. These are the same factors that are involved in heart disease and include high blood pressure, diabetes, smoking, obesity and high cholesterol. If you combine these risk factors with age, you should be expecting your doctors to be checking your carotid arteries for blockage.
Preventing your carotid arteries from blockage will also prevent the rest of the arteries in your body from blockage. Reducing your cholesterol levels, exercising, eating unrefined carbohydrates and a diet low in saturated fats, especially trans-fatty acids, are all ways to reduce the chances of your carotid arteries being clogged or blocked. If you are a smoker, quitting will make the biggest change in your risk factor and should seriously be considered.
Symptoms of Carotid Artery Blockage
Carotid artery blockage will cause a stroke in its worst form. The simpler version that you will want to know the symptoms for is actually called a transient ischemic attack, or a TIA. According to the Mayo Clinic, the symptoms for a blockage of arteries are almost the same as for a stroke, but they are only temporary. You should seek emergency care immediately if you experience sudden numbness to one side of your face, arm or leg. You may also have difficulty speaking and slur your words. If you lose sight in one eye, cannot stand up straight or keep your balance, seek help immediately. Even though it might go away within an hour, you have no way of knowing when you might have a full-blown stroke.
There are several types of treatments that your doctor will choose to use on you, depending on the severity. Usually, you can expect to be prescribed statins to reduce cholesterol and blood thinners to reduce the chance of clotting, and be advised to clean up your lifestyle by stopping smoking, reducing fat intake, eating more fruits and vegetables, drinking less alcohol and getting more exercise. An ultrasound may be taken of your neck to determine if blocked arteries are present. For more extreme cases, surgery may be required to open the artery and remove the layer of plaque lining the artery.
The National Stroke Association advises people to use these checks that form the word, FAST, to determine if a person is having a stroke:
F = FACE. Ask the person to smile. Check to see if one side of the face droops.
A = ARMS. Ask the person to raise both arms. See if one arm drifts downward.
S = SPEECH. Ask the person to repeat a simple sentence. Check to see if words are slurred and if the sentence is repeated correctly.
T = TIME. If a person shows any of these symptoms, time is essential. It is important to get to the hospital as quickly as possible. Call 9-1-1. Act FAST.
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