The two carotid arteries provide the blood supply to the hemispheres of the brain. These are specialized blood vessels that reside just under the muscles on both sides of the neck and are particularly prone to blockage by cholesterol-thick yellow material that produces a thickening in the lining of the vessel. The buildup of plaque is the result of the vessel injury from high blood pressure, tobacco use, high cholesterol and familial factors. As the plaque layer thickens, it can produce complete blockage of the blood vessel or the plaque can deteriorate and fragment. This fragmentation can send clot and debris into the small vessls of the brain, resulting in a disabling stroke or death.
A “stroke” is a loss of functional brain tissue from poor blood supply. It can occur from hypertension, heart rhythm disturbances or arterial blockage. A significant number of strokes result from plaque formation in the carotid arteries. Proper screening and surgical treatment of these blockages can result in a substantial reduction in the risk of a disabling or fatal stroke. Only about 40% of stroke victims experience warning signs prior to the attack.
Effective screening of the carotid arteries using Doppler Ultrasound is a simple, accurate and painless examination. In some situations, further information can be obtained using more advanced studies such as CAT scanning, MRI and catheterization of the carotid arteries.
If a significant blockage in the carotid artery is discovered, consultation with an experienced vascular surgeon is recommended. A careful decision can then be made to utilize certain medications, provide periodic follow-up examinations or advise the use of standard surgical procedures to remove the plaque, or, in specialized circumstances, place a stent in the carotid artery.
The Vascular Lab at Virginia Surgical Associates provides thorough carotid ultrasound examinations with state of the art equipment and certified technologists. The surgeons have extensive training and experience in the techniques for assessment and surgical repair of the carotid arteries.
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