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Heart Health

The crucial, controversial carotid artery Part II: Treatment

September 1, 2011

The carotid arteries carry oxygen-rich blood from the heart to the front half of the brain. But these crucial arteries can become narrowed by the cholesterol-laden plaques of atherosclerosis. Blood clots, or thrombi, can form on the plaques, then break off and travel as emboli to the brain, where they lodge in small arteries, interrupting the vital flow of blood to brain cells. If the interruption is partial or brief, the brain cells recover; the patient experiences a transient ischemic attack (TIA) with no permanent damage. But if the blockage is complete, brain cells die, producing a stroke.

In many cases, a TIA warns of a future stroke, giving doctors time to perform a carotid ultrasound test to see if the artery is mildly (less than 50%), moderately (50% to 69%), or severely (70% to 99%) narrowed. Once the diagnosis of carotid stenosis (narrowing) is established, several treatment options must be considered.

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