Carotid artery disease, narrowing of the arteries in the neck that supply the brain with blood, is a gradual process that slowly blocks the artery, and therefore often does not present any warning signs until the artery is almost totally closed. When blood flow is blocked through the artery, a stroke results. A stroke occurs when brain tissue begins to die because of a lack of oxygenated blood. A stroke or a "mini-stroke" (transient ischemic attack) might be your first indicator that your carotid arteries are not healthy.
Symptoms of Stroke
A stroke is a medical emergency. If you experience the symptoms below, contact 911 immediately.
Most of us have headaches or clumsy spells now and then. But the symptoms of stroke will seem unusual and come on suddenly. Call 911 if you or someone you’re with notices these unexplained, sudden warning signs:
- A feeling of numbness or weakness in your face, arm, or leg (You might notice it on one side more than the other.)
- Vision problems in one or both eyes
- Dizziness or loss of balance; difficulty walking
- Sudden onset of confusion
- Problems speaking or understanding what other people are saying
- Severe headaches without warning or explanation
Women may have the same symptoms as men, but they’ve also reported a few others. These symptoms also happen suddenly and unexpectedly:
- Pains in the face or legs
- Feeling weak all over
- Chest pain
- Shortness of breath
- Rapid heart beat
Seeking medical attention as soon as a stroke is suspected is of critical importance. Symptoms of a stroke include numbness, usually on one side of the body; difficulty speaking and understanding; dizziness; headache; and difficulty seeing. Physicians can work to restore blood flow to the brain to minimize damage.
Quick Check for Stroke - It Can Save a Life
If you’re with someone and you notice a sudden change in appearance or behavior, make sure it’s not a stroke. Ask them to do these three simple things—
- Smile—Is it the smile you know and love? Or, is one corner of the mouth drooping down?
- Close your eyes and raise your arms—Are the arms held high together, or is one drifting back down to the side?
- Repeat a simple phrase—Why not make it funny? If the person is fine, you can laugh about it later. Try “If at first you don't succeed, skydiving is not for you.” Listen for slurred words and unusual sounding speech.
If you notice a droopy, lopsided smile, one arm held lower than the other or drifting down on its own, or slurred speech without reasonable explanations, call 911 immediately and tell them that you’re with someone who needs to get to a stroke treatment center as quickly as possible.
Symptoms of Mini-Stroke
A “mini-stroke” is also a medical emergency because you cannot know if you are having a stroke or a mini-stroke. If you have symptoms of a stroke, dial 911. Additionally, many people who have a mini-stroke are at increased risk of having a more serious stroke later.
A transient ischemic attack (TIA), or "mini-stroke," has symptoms exactly like those of a stroke. Symptoms of a TIA resolve within 24 hours. If you experience a TIA, this does not mean that you should not seek medical care. More than a third of people who experience a TIA will later have a stroke. A TIA can therefore serve as a warning, and an opportunity to identify carotid artery disease before a more serious medical event takes place.
When your doctor examines you, he or she may put a stethoscope on your neck and listen. This is a simple diagnostic procedure that can sometimes detect a whooshing sound called a bruit, similar to the sound of water trying to pass through a kinked garden hose. This sound indicates uneven blood flow through the carotid arteries, which can be caused by narrowing of those arteries. While a bruit can indicate carotid artery disease, some medical professionals think it may not give as much information as to whether that patient will eventually have a stroke. A bruit, therefore, can be a starting point for a diagnosis but must be supplemented by imaging tests that can diagnose carotid artery disease.