Am I at Risk?
Up to 3% of individuals older than 65 have carotid artery disease. Not a huge percentage, but it is a serious condition where risk increases with age and, if left untreated, can cause strokes or mini-strokes (transient ischemic attacks). More than 800,000 Americans experience a stroke each year, and many are the result of carotid artery disease.
Carotid artery disease occurs when fatty deposits, or plaques, clog the blood vessels that carry oxygen-rich blood to your brain. You have two main carotid arteries, one on each side of your neck. They each divide into internal and external carotid arteries. The internal carotid arteries supply blood to your brain; the external carotid arteries supply blood to your face, head and neck. When one of the arteries becomes blocked, blood flow to the brain is halted and a stroke or stroke-like event can occur.
In addition to age, risk factors for carotid artery disease include:
- Diabetes—in this case, your body’s blood sugar level is too high and doesn’t process enough insulin, or your body doesn’t use its insulin properly. People with diabetes are four times more likely to have carotid artery disease than those who don’t.
- Elevated cholesterol—this includes unhealthy levels of high LDL (bad cholesterol) and low HDL (good cholesterol).
- Family history of atherosclerosis—which is a build-up of fats, cholesterol and other substances on the artery walls.
- High blood pressure (hypertension)—blood pressure is considered high if it stays consistently at or above 140/90 mmHg over a period of time.
- Lack of physical activity—leading a sedentary lifestyle with too much sitting and a lack of cardiovascular activity can promote other risk factors for carotid artery disease, such as diabetes, hypertension or obesity.
- Metabolic syndrome—this is a group of five risk factors that raise your risk of stroke and other health problems. They include a large waistline (indicating abdominal obesity), a high triglyceride level (a type of fat found in the blood), a low HDL cholesterol level, high blood pressure and high blood sugar.
- Smoking—this bad habit can damage and squeeze blood vessels, which elevates bad cholesterol levels and raises blood pressure.
- Unhealthy diet—foods that are high in saturated and trans fats, sodium and sugar can worsen other risk factors.
Do not immediately stress if you have any one of these risk factors. However, if you identify with more than one of the risk factors, you can take steps to help prevent or delay carotid artery disease.
Treating Carotid Artery Disease
Dr. Russell Lam of Lam Vascular & Associates is a leading vascular surgeon recorded on the Texas “Super Doctors” list in Dallas in 2015, 2016 and 2017. He specializes in reducing patient’s stroke risk by offering advanced carotid artery disease treatments. First, Dr. Lam will conduct a thorough physical examination and this may include a carotid artery test to confirm any diagnosis. Carotid ultrasound (sonography) is the most common test that uses sound waves to create pictures of the insides of your carotid arteries to determine the severity of plaque build-up.
When a patient presents severe carotid artery disease, a common treatment recommended by Dr. Lam is carotid endarterectomy. During the procedure, the blockage in the carotid artery is removed via a small incision in the neck. Dr. Lam then removes the plaque and repairs the artery with stitches or a natural graft. The natural graft is made from a piece of another artery, or with a woven patch. Once the procedure is complete, blood flow is restored to the brain, significantly reducing the risk of stroke. This highly successful procedure only requires a one-night hospital stay.
If a patient’s carotid artery disease is less advanced, Dr. Lam may suggest lifestyle changes and continued monitoring. He may also suggest a minimally invasive procedure known as endovascular repair or carotid artery stenting.
To discuss all treatment options for carotid artery disease, consult with Lam Vascular & Associates today. Book an initial screening with the “Super Doctor” Lam, a specialist in this delicate discipline of vascular medicine.