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Neurosciences and Behavioral Health Center

Carotid Artery Stenosis

Carotid artery stenosis occurs when the carotid arteries narrow. The carotid arteries are major arteries found on each side of the neck that supply blood from the heart to the brain.

This condition is a major risk factor for ischemic stroke. Ischemic stroke occurs when blood clots block blood flow to the brain.

Risk Factors 

Carotid artery stenosis is more common in men aged 75 or younger and women aged 75 or older. Risk factors include:

  • Family history of atherosclerosis
  • Coronary artery disease
  • Peripheral artery disease (PAD)
  • Smoking
  • High blood pressure
  • Diabetes
  • High cholesterol
  • Obesity


There are usually no symptoms. Tell your doctor if you have symptoms of a stroke or a transient ischemic attack (TIA or mini-stroke). This is a warning sign that you may have carotid artery stenosis. Symptoms may include:

  • Blindness, blurry or dim vision
  • Weakness, numbness, or tingling of the face, arm, leg or one side of the body
  • Difficulty speaking or understanding words
  • Lightheadedness, unsteadiness of gait or falling
  • Trouble with balance or coordination
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Sudden confusion or loss of memory

Diagnosis & Treatment

You doctor may order images of your internal structures. This can be done with:

  • Carotid ultrasonography
  • Computer tomography angiography (CTA)
  • Magnetic resonance angiography (MRA)

Treatment aims to prevent carotid artery stenosis from causing inadequate blood flow to the brain or causing a stroke. Treatment depends on the severity of your condition and your symptoms.

Medication and Lifestyle Changes

If you have no symptoms and if plaque build-up is not severe, your doctor may prescribe you medication like aspirin to help prevent a stroke. Lifestyle changes are also an important part of treatment. Some actions you can take to reduce your risk of stroke include:

  • Eat a healthy diet
  • Exercise regularly
  • Quit smoking
  • Treat your diabetes
  • Lower your cholesterol levels
  • Control high blood pressure


You may need surgery if your arteries have severe plaque build-up. A carotid endarterectomy opens the artery and cleans out the plaque from. Another surgical possibility is carotid angioplasty and stenting. In this surgery, your doctor inserts a balloon into the artery to widen it. Your doctor then inserts a metal mesh, called a stent, to keep the artery open so that blood can flow freely.


To help reduce your chance of getting carotid artery stenosis, you’ll need to decrease your risk factors. Here are some steps to decrease these risk factors:

  • Exercise regularly.
  • Eat more fruits and vegetables. Limit dietary salt and fat.
  • Quit smoking,
  • Drink alcohol in moderation.
  • Maintain a healthy weight.
  • Keep your blood pressure in a safe range.
  • Manage your high cholesterol and diabetes.


Call us at 434.243.3675.


Content was created using EBSCO’s Health Library. Edits to original content made by Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia. This information is not a substitute for professional medical advice.