The carotid arteries provide the main blood supply to the brain. They are located on each side of your neck. You can feel their pulse under your jawline.
Carotid artery stenosis occurs when the carotid arteries become narrowed or blocked. This can lead to stroke.
Whether or not your doctor recommended surgery to unblock narrowed arteries, medicines and lifestyle changes can:
- Prevent further narrowing of these important arteries
- Prevent a stroke from occurring
Making certain changes to your diet and exercise habits can help treat carotid artery disease. These healthy changes can also help you maintain a healthy weight and manage high blood pressure and cholesterol.
- Eat a healthy, low-fat diet.
- Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables. Fresh or frozen are better choices than canned, which may have added salt or sugar.
- Choose high-fiber foods, such as whole-grain breads, pastas, cereals, and crackers.
- Eat lean meats and skinless chicken and turkey.
- Eat fish twice a week. Fish is good for your arteries.
- Cut back on saturated fat, cholesterol, and added salt and sugar.
Be more active.
- Talk with your health care provider first to make sure you are healthy enough to exercise.
- Walking is an easy way to add activity to your day. Start with 10 to 15 minutes a day.
- Start gradually and build up to 150 minutes of exercise a week.
Stop smoking, if you smoke. Quitting reduces your risk of stroke. Talk with your provider about quit-smoking programs.
If lifestyle changes do not lower your cholesterol and blood pressure enough, medicines may be prescribed.
- Cholesterol medicines help your liver produce less cholesterol. This prevents plaque, a waxy deposit, from building up in the carotid arteries.
- Blood pressure medicines relax your blood vessels, make your heart beat slower, and help your body get rid of extra fluid. This helps lower high blood pressure.
- Blood-thinning medicines, such as aspirin or clopidogrel, decrease the chance of blood clots forming and help lower your risk of stroke.
These medicines can have side effects. If you notice side effects, be sure to tell your doctor. Your doctor may change the dose or type of medicine you take to help reduce side effects. Never stop taking medicines or take less medicine without talking to your provider first.
Your provider will want to monitor you and see how well your treatment is working. At these visits, your provider may:
- Use a stethoscope to listen to the blood flow in your neck
- Check your blood pressure
- Check your cholesterol levels
You may also have imaging tests done to see if the blockages in your carotid arteries are becoming worse.
When to Call the Doctor
Having carotid artery disease puts you at risk for stroke. If you think you have symptoms of stroke, go to the emergency room or call 911 or the local emergency number immediately. Symptoms of a stroke include:
- Blurred vision
- Loss of memory
- Loss of sensation
- Problems with speech and language
- Vision loss
- Weakness in one part of your body
Get help as soon as symptoms occur. The sooner you receive treatment, the better your chance for recovery. With a stroke, every second of delay can result in more brain injury.
Carotid artery disease - self-care
Biller J, Ruland S, Schneck MJ. Ischemic cerebrovascular disease. In: Daroff RB, Jankovic J, Mazziotta JC, Pomeroy SL, eds. Bradley's Neurology in Clinical Practice. 7th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2016:chap 65.
Goldstein LB. Ischemic cerebrovascular disease. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman-Cecil Medicine. 26th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 379.
Ricotta JJ, Ricotta JJ. Cerebrovascular disease: decision making including medical therapy. In: Sidawy AN, Perler BA, eds. Rutherford's Vascular Surgery and Endovascular Therapy. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2019:chap 89.
Sooppan R, Lum YW. Management of recurrent carotid stenosis. In: Cameron AM, Cameron JL, eds. Current Surgical Therapy. 13th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:933-939.
Review Date 1/25/2020
Updated by: Deepak Sudheendra, MD, RPVI, FSIR, Director of DVT & Complex Venous Disease Program, Assistant Professor of Interventional Radiology & Surgery at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine, with an expertise in Vascular Interventional Radiology & Surgical Critical Care, Philadelphia, PA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.