Stroke Awareness: The Risk Factors that Lead to Carotid Artery Disease


Detecting Early and Diagnosing Quickly

Stroke, like many conditions affecting the vascular system, can do detrimental damage to not just your blood vessels, but to the entire body, if left unmonitored or uncontrolled. The effects of a stroke directly affect the brain, which, as the control center of the brain, can ultimately affect other systems in the body, resulting in a loss in motor skills, speech, balance, or memory. Not only this, but of the 42 million strokes that occur each year, over 6 million will result in death.

Stroke is caused by plaque blockage in either one or both of the carotid arteries, the vascular connection leading to the brain. Blood flows through the aorta (the largest artery in the body) to the carotid arteries, one on either side of the neck. Due to a number of risk factors, plaque can begin to buildup in the arteries, causing them to narrow and stiffen. Often irregular and misshaped, these plaque deposits can collect in the narrowed areas. When this happens, decrease blood flow and oxygen supply to the brain occurs, causing a stroke.

However, if caught early, stroke doesn't have to have a place in a vascular lifestyle - the best way to assure this is to know the best methods of stroke prevention, diagnosis, and risk factors for the carotid artery disease that can lead to stroke.

Risk Factors for Stroke

There are numerous risk factors for stroke development, all of which coincide with the effects of peripheral vascular disease - the condition that clogs the carotid arteries. Though the main reason for stroke development is the result of plaque build-up in the inner walls of the arteries, specifically when low-density lipoproteins (the "bad" type of cholesterol) invade the arterial wall, it isn't until a prior risk factor results in the formation of the condition.

With this, there are a wide array of risk factors that can contribute to the development of peripheral vascular disease, which can ultimately lead to stroke:

  • Age - Being greater than 50 years old is a major risk factor for PVD.
  • Gender - Male patients are more likely to develop PVD and stroke than women.
  • Diabetes / Impaired Glucose Tolerance
  • Postmenopausal women - Though men are more likely to develop PVD/stroke than women, women that are postmenopausal have a higher likelihood than women who aren't.
  • Family History - If high cholesterol, hypertension, carotid artery disease, or PVD runs in the family, the condition is more likely to develop.
  • Coronary artery / Heart Disease
  • High Cholesterol
  • Hypertension
  • Obesity / Physical Inactivity
  • Smoking / Use of Tobacco Products

Methods of Diagnosis

There are numerous methods of diagnosing stroke, both before and after peripheral vascular disease blocking blood flow to the brain occurs. In most cases, initial diagnosis is made through a combination of physical examination, diagnostic testing, and report of symptoms. However, often times, the symptoms initially start as a mini-stroke, whose telling signs typically last anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours before subsiding. If any of these symptoms occur, however, call 911 immediately and have someone take you to the ER:

  • Weakness, numbness, or tingling on one side of the body, often in an arm or leg
  • Paralysis or loss of coordination on one side of the body
  • Drooping on one side of the face or by the mouth
  • Blindness or change in vision in one eye
  • Loss of balance
  • Loss of speech or garbled, slurred speech, difficulty using tongue
  • Inability to write or understand writing
  • Memory loss or confusion
  • Loss of consciousness or "black out"

In order to confirm diagnosis, there are various methods of testing available:

  • Carotid artery duplex ultrasound
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
  • Magnetic resonance angiography (MRA)
  • Computed tomography scan (CT)
  • Angiogram or arteriogram