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What is carotid artery surgery?

Understanding doctor with patient

Carotid artery surgery is surgery to restore blood flow to your brain. It is a treatment for carotid artery disease and helps prevent stroke. Carotid artery surgery involves removing plaque buildup from your carotid arteries. 

Carotid artery disease, also called carotid artery stenosis, is a narrowing of your carotid arteries. You have two carotid arteries, one on each side of your neck. They are major arteries that carry blood from your heart to your brain. 

Carotid artery disease is caused by atherosclerosis, commonly called hardening of the arteries. Atherosclerosis is a buildup of plaque. Plaque is a sticky, waxy deposit of fats, cholesterol, calcium, and fibrous material. Carotid artery disease puts you at risk for stroke.

Carotid artery surgery is major surgery with risks and potential complications. You may have less invasive treatment options. Consider getting a second opinion about all your treatment choices before having carotid artery surgery. 

Types of carotid artery surgery

The types of carotid artery surgery procedures include:

  • Carotid endarterectomy involves opening the carotid arteries in your neck and removing the inner lining that is damaged by plaque. A patch graft may be placed to help widen the artery and improve the blood flow.
  • Carotid artery angioplasty and stenting is an option for patients who have a high risk of complications. This procedure involves inserting a small tube, or catheter, through a blood vessel in the groin or elbow. Your doctor guides the catheter to your carotid arteries and opens or widens the artery and places a stent.  A stent is a cylinder-like tube made of thin mesh. It holds your artery open after angioplasty. Stents remain in place after your surgery.

Other procedures that may be performed

Your doctor may perform other procedures with carotid artery surgery. These procedures show how much plaque is in your carotid arteries:

  • Carotid angiography makes images (called an angiogram) of the carotid arteries. This is a minimally invasive test that requires the placement of a catheter into your arm to inject dye into the carotid arteries.
  • Carotid ultrasound is a noninvasive, painless screening test that examines the carotid arteries and evaluates blood flow through them.
Medical Reviewers: Daphne E. Hemmings, MD, MPH Last Review Date: Jul 11, 2013

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Medical References

Carotid Artery Disease. BetterMedicine. http://www.bettermedicine.com/article/carotid-artery-disease. Accessed April 22, 2013.
Carotid Artery Disease. National Heart Lung and Blood Institute. http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/dci/Diseases/catd/catd_treatments.html. Accessed April 22, 2013.
Carotid Artery Disease, Stroke, Transient Ischemic Attacks (TIAs). Society for Vascular Surgery. http://www.vascularweb.org/vascularhealth/Pages/carotid-artery-disease-,-stroke-,-transient-ischemic-attacks-(-tias-)-.aspx. Accessed April 22, 2013.
Carotid Endarterectomy. Society for Vascular Surgery. http://www.vascularweb.org/vascularhealth/Pages/carotid-endarterectomy.aspx. Accessed April 22, 2013.
Explore Carotid Endarterectomy. National Heart Lung and Blood Institute. http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/dci/Diseases/carend/carend_what.html. Accessed April 22, 2013.
Pile, JC. Evaluating postoperative fever: A focused approach. Cleveland Clinic Journal of Medicine. 2006;73 (Suppl 1):S62. http://ccjm.org/content/73/Suppl_1/S62.full.pdf. Accessed April 22, 2013.
Questions and Answers about Carotid Endarterectomy. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/stroke/carotid_endarterectomy_backgrounder.htm. Accessed April 22, 2013.

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