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Carotid Artery Disease

Carotid artery disease, also known as cerebrovascular disease, refers to the disorders in which an area of the brain is affected by ischemia or bleeding and one or more of the cerebral blood vessels are involved. Cerebrovascular disease includes stroke, carotid stenosis, vertebral stenosis and intracranial stenosis, aneurysms, and vascular malformations. Carotid artery disease is one of the most common causes of stroke.

There are two kinds of stroke:​​

  • Ischemic stroke - An ischemic stroke is the most common type of stroke. It results from clogging of the arteries, through a process called atherosclerosis and death of brain cells.
  • ​Hemorrhagic stroke - A hemorrhagic stroke occurs when a blood vessel in the brain bursts, leading to bleeding in the brain.

Causes, incidence, and risk factors

Restrictions in blood flow may occur from vessel narrowing (stenosis), clot formation (thrombosis), blockage (embolism), or blood vessel rupture (hemorrhage). Lack of sufficient blood flow (ischemia) affects brain tissue and may cause a stroke. Carotid artery disease occurs when sticky, fatty substances called plaque build up in the inner lining of the arteries.

Stroke is a leading cause of serious long-term disability, with an estimated 5.4 million stroke survivors currently alive today. The most recent prevalence statistics from the American Heart Association estimate that 5,400,000 people have experienced stroke.

Stroke is the third leading cause of death in the United States. Each year, approximately 795,000 people experience a new or recurrent stroke. Approximately 610,000 of these are first attacks, and 185,000 are recurrent attacks. Of all strokes, 87% are ischemic, 10% are intracerebral hemorrhage, and 3% are subarachnoid hemorrhage strokes. About 25 percent of people who recover from their first stroke will have another stroke within five years.

On average, every 40 seconds, someone in the United States has a stroke (AHA computation based on latest available data).

Risk factors include:

  • High blood pressure
  • Smoking
  • Diabetes
  • Heart disease
  • High cholesterol
  • Heavy alcohol use
  • Kidney disease, especially when dialysis is needed
  • Cocaine abuse
  • Family history of stroke
  • Increasing age