Carotid artery disease occurs when fatty deposits, or plaques, clog the blood vessels that send blood to your brain and head, which are your carotid arteries. This blockage in blood vessels increases your risk of stroke — a medical emergency that occurs when the blood supply to the brain is interrupted or seriously reduced. When a stroke occurs, oxygen can’t make its way to the brain and brain cells begin to die within minutes.
Carotid artery disease is a slowly developing disease, and the first sign that you have the disease may be a stroke.
Risk factors for carotid artery disease include:
Your risk of developing carotid artery disease also increases if you have a family history of the disease or atherosclerosis. Age is also a risk factor. As we age, our arteries become less flexible and are more easily damaged.
To prevent or slow the progression of carotid artery disease, it’s important to manage your risk factors.
- Don’t start smoking, or quit smoking. After just a few years, a nonsmoker’s and former smoker’s chances of stroke are comparable.
- Maintain a healthy weight. By maintaining a healthy weight, you reduce your chance of developing high blood pressure, diabetes and other health risks.
- Limit cholesterol and fat intake. This may help reduce the accumulation of plaque in your arteries.
- Eat a variety of fruits and vegetables. Consuming healthy foods provides valuable nutrients for your body, which may protect you from a stroke.
- Consider limiting your salt intake. Cutting back on sodium can help reduce your chance of developing high blood pressure.
- Exercise regularly. Being physically active can also improve the health of your blood vessels and heart.
- Limit your alcohol intake. Drinking alcohol in excess increases your risk for carotid artery disease.
- Control chronic conditions. Manage any chronic conditions you may have, such as diabetes and high blood pressure.