Carotid artery stenosis refers to a narrowing of the carotid arteries, the major arteries in the neck that supply the brain with blood from the heart. A common cause of the condition is atherosclerosis, where fatty deposits build up in the inner walls of the blood vessels and cause the lumen or space in the artery to narrow.
A diagnosis of carotid artery stenosis usually involves the following steps:
A doctor will obtain details of symptoms and medical history as well as performing a physical examination. The doctor will be interested in symptoms that indicate transient ischemic attack (TIA) or mini stroke, and these events are often considered warning signs that a stroke is likely to occur. Symptoms of TIA include numbness, weakness and tingling of limbs, blurred vision, speech difficulties, headaches, sudden confusion and difficulty balancing.
Certain risk factors for the condition include old age, family history of the condition, high blood cholesterol, past or current smoking, high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity.
Physical examination – The peripheral pulses are palpated as part of the examination. The doctor will also use a stethoscope to listen to the blood flow through the carotid arteries. Carotid ultrasonography – This technique uses high intensity sound waves to generate structural images of the carotid arteries that can be used to check for plaque build up and clots.
Carotid angiography – A catheter is inserted into a vein in the patient’s arm or leg and guided towards the carotid arteries. A contrast dye is then passed through the catheter and X-ray images of the carotid arteries are taken.
CT Scan - A computed tomography (CT) scan uses X-ray in conjunction with a computer to generate detailed images of the head and neck.
Magnetic resonance imaging – This technique employs radio waves and magnetic fields to create detailed images of the arteries that may even show blood moving through them.