Stroke & Carotid Artery Disease

At Sentara Vascular Specialists, we are experts in the diagnosis and treatment of carotid artery disease. Your carotid arteries are the two large blood vessels in your neck that supply your brain with oxygen. When one or both become narrowed or blocked by a fatty substance called plaque, you are said to have carotid artery disease. Plaque builds up as a result of an unhealthy lifestyle – lack of exercise, unbalanced diet, smoking – or sometimes a family history.

Carotid artery disease is a major risk factor for stroke, which occurs when there is an interruption in blood flow to the brain. This interruption is caused by a piece of plaque blocking a carotid artery, or a weakened carotid vessel bursting and bleeding into the surrounding area. When the stroke is caused by a blockage it is called an ischemic stroke (almost 90 percent of all strokes are ischemic) and when it is caused by bleeding it is called a hemorrhagic stroke. Stroke is dangerous because if your brain doesn't receive oxygen for even a few minutes, there can be long-lasting damage. People who have had a stroke often experience loss of memory, balance, movement ability, or speech.

Signs of stroke include:

  • Numbness or tingling in an arm or leg
  • Dizziness or falling down
  • Feeling tired
  • Trouble swallowing or speaking
  • Personality or mood changes
  • Partial or complete vision loss
  • Headache
  • Nausea or vomiting

Call 9-1-1 immediately if you or a loved one are having these symptoms.

Sentara Vascular Specialists provides the most advanced imaging and treatment options for carotid artery disease and stroke. Because we value non-invasive healing, our first recommendation is always regular exercise, a diet rich in fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins, no more than one alcoholic drink per day for women and two per day for men, and the complete avoidance of tobacco. We may then suggest medication or a procedure to clear plaque from the affected artery(ies). The two main clearing procedures are angioplasty stenting and carotid endarterectomy. Angioplasty and stenting is a minimally invasive procedure, meaning only a tiny incision is needed. Your surgeon threads a long, thin tube called a catheter with a balloon on the tip through the incision up to the narrowed carotid artery. The balloon is then inflated gently, thereby opening the vessel. Afterward, we insert a tiny mesh metal tube called a stent to help keep the artery open. If our surgeons decide that angioplasty and stenting would put you at risk, we will treat you with the standard carotid endarterectomy procedure. For endarterectomy, an incision is made in your neck and the plaque is surgically removed. You, your doctor, and your family will talk through the options and come to a decision about which treatment is best for your unique situation. Sentara Vascular Specialists is performing stenting and angioplasty under investigative studies approved by the FDA.

Because stroke effects can be devastating, prevention is essential. Although you cannot control risk factors such as age and gender, living a healthy lifestyle goes far. We will talk with you in-depth about your personal and family history and create a prevention plan that works for you. By screening for and tracking carotid artery disease while it is still in the early stages, the vast majority of stroke cases can be avoided.

Rest assured that our highly trained team will take good care of you and your family. Please don't hesitate to contact us with questions or concerns.


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