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Carotid Artery Disease

Blockages in the carotid arteries, which supply the brain with blood, cause about 25 percent of preventable strokes, one of the most feared illnesses of the elderly. These blockages are caused by atherosclerosis or hardening of the arteries.

In its early stages, carotid artery disease may not have any symptoms until you experience what's commonly called a "mini-stroke" or transient ischemic attack (TIA). If your doctor suspects you have carotid artery disease, it can be easily diagnosed using ultrasound or other imaging technology.

Carotid artery blockages are caused by hardening of the arteries, called atherosclerosis. Risk factors for atherosclerosis include:

  • Diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Smoking cigarettes

Strokes occur when pieces of the diseased artery break off and travel into the brain, eventually blocking blood flow, causing part of the brain to die. This can either cause a full-blown stroke, resulting in permanent neurological problems in a minority of people, or a transient ischemic attack (TIA), which produces the same symptoms as a stroke but resolves in less than a day, often in a matter of minutes.

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Carotid artery blockages can be diagnosed easily with ultrasound imaging, a painless and safe procedure that is performed on an outpatient basis.

If a more detailed image is needed to determine if surgery is required, your doctor may order other tests such as:

  • Computerized tomography (CT) scan
  • Magnetic resonance angiogram (MRA)

If you think you're experiencing symptoms of a stroke or a transient ischemic attack, you should contact your doctor immediately.

Mild to moderate blockages in the carotid artery are treated with medications called antiplatelet agents, such as aspirin, that block the formation of blood clots. In addition, treatment involves identifying and reducing risk factors, such as cigarette smoking and high blood pressure.

Ultrasound studies are repeated over time to monitor the blockage.

Surgery

If your carotid artery disease progresses, you may need surgery.

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UCSF Clinics & Centers

Heart & Vascular Center

Vascular & Endovascular Surgery
400 Parnassus Ave., Suite A-6110
San Francisco, CA 94143
Phone: (415) 353-2357
Fax: (415) 353-2669
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Interventional Radiology Clinic
505 Parnassus Ave., Room M-361
San Francisco, CA 94143
Phone: (415) 353-1300
Appointments: (415) 353-2573
Billing: 415) 514-8888
Fax: (415) 353-8570

Neurointerventional Radiology
505 Parnassus Ave., Third Floor, Room M-327
San Francisco, CA 94143
Consultation: (415) 353-1863
Scheduling: (415) 353-1869
Fax: (415) 353-8606
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