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Explaining Carotid Artery Disease


March 2013


I have never really understood why medical terminology is just so difficult; a friend who was told she had carotid artery disease said she looked it up and read:

"Carotid atherosclerosis is one of the main risk factors for ischaemic cerebrovascular events (CVEs)".

Carotid arteryShe asked me what that meant!

Really it is not that complex. Our carotid arteries are the two large blood vessels that supply our oxygen filled blood to a large part of the front of the brain. This aspect of our brain controls are thinking, speech and motor functions. When you feel your pulse on each side of the neck below the jaw, this beating of the pulse is coming from the movement through the carotid arteries.

The word atherosclerosis really simply means the narrowing of these arteries. This is usually caused for the same reason that other vessels in our body narrow - they have become restricted or clogged up preventing full blood flow.

These vessels can become restricted for a number of reasons but can often be due to the accumulation of fatty deposits plus other materials within the artery. The problem is sometimes known as “hardeniing” of the arteries.

The word ischaemic comes from Greek and refers to restrictions of thinning; nowadays it is usually used in relation to blood vessels.

Cerebrovascular events refer to the disruption of blood supply to the brain, often known as a stroke.

Therefore an ischaemic cerebrovascular event really is a term to indicate a disruption of the blood supply to the brain probably because of restricted flow through narrowed blood vessels.

Strokes can be caused when the artery becomes so narrow that an adequate flow of blood to the brain is no longer possible. Sometimes an artery that has been narrowed can rupture; or a piece of the fatty deposit can break off and travel to the smaller arteries of the brain; or a blood clot can form and obstruct the blood vessel; again any of these will disrupt the natural flow of blood to the brain.

Signs that fatty deposits and other material are building up in the carotid arteries and reducing blood flow are not easy to detect as there are no early symptoms. However, there are some tests that doctors can carry out that might indicate a patient has this problem.

Often, though, the only warning patients have is when they suffer a stroke. Signs of a stroke include a number of different symptoms, but if you sudden experience loss or blurred vision; a weakness, tingling or numbness in one side of the face, one arm or leg and in one side of the body; if you experience a sudden difficulty in general balance or co-ordination, in speaking or a sudden severe headache, any of these things could indicate you are having a stroke when urgent medical help is required.
If the arteries are very narrow, you may need an operation called an endarterectomy to remove the plaque. For less severe narrowing, a medicine to prevent blood clots can reduce your risk of stroke. Another option for people who can't have surgery is carotid angioplasty. This involves placing balloons and/or stents into the artery to open it and hold it open so normal blood flow can resume.

There is more information on the web including as:
http://www.patient.co.uk/doctor/Transient-Ischaemic-Attacks-(TIA).htm

But everything to do with this disease appears to be littered with long medical terminology so, if you have any concerns at all, it is far better to speak personally to your medical practitioner who should be used to explaining things in normal wording!!!


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