Carotid Artery Disease is the narrowing or blockage (stenosis) of the carotid arteries, most commonly caused by atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries). The carotid arteries are two large blood vessels, one at each side of the neck, that supply oxygenated blood and nutrients to the front part of the brain, where thinking, speech, personality, sensory and motor functions reside.
Carotid Artery Disease progression can lead to severe narrowing of the lumen or detachment οf a piece of plaque or blood clot from the carotid wall that will travel to the smaller arteries of the brain. The blood supply to the brain can be then decreased to such a level that is inefficient for brain cell survival, a condition known as "ischemic event".
This could either be a stroke, which is permanent loss of brain function, or a "transient ischemic attack" (TIA), implying a temporary alteration of brain function. Brain damage can be permanent if blood supply is interrupted for more than 3 to 6 hours.
Carotid Artery Disease is roughly associated to 1/3 of all strokes. Strokes can otherwise occur as a result of other conditions such as atrial fibrillation, disease of the small brain vessels or intracranial bleed.
Atherosclerosis is the most important risk factor for the development of Carotid Artery Disease. Atherosclerosis is the buildup of cholesterol, fat, calcium and other waste products that travel through the bloodstream and deposit on the inner surface of the arteries to form the so-called atherosclerotic plaque.
This is usually the result of smoking, high blood pressure (hypertension), high cholesterol (hypercholesterolemia) and/or aging (>60 years old). Obesity and diabetes can also have a contributing effect.
Although these risk factors increase a person's risk, they do not necessarily cause the disease.
Some people with one or more risk factors never develop the disease, while others develop disease and have no known risk factors, indicating the effect of the genes (family history).
Patients with Carotid Artery Disease will frequently have Coronary Heart Disease and Peripheral Vascular Disease as all these three conditions share the same risk factors.