The University of Chicago Medicine is a certified Comprehensive Stroke Center, and our physicians have an established history of scientific breakthroughs related to stroke and carotid arterial disease. In fact, researchers at UChicago Medicine first demonstrated how atherosclerosis can result in carotid artery blockages.

Carotid arteries are located on either side of the neck and are responsible for supplying blood to the brain. Carotid artery disease, also known as cerebrovascular insufficiency, is characterized by the narrowing in one or both of the carotid arteries. Most frequently, this narrowing results from atherosclerosis, or "hardening of the arteries due to plaque." Atherosclerosis can be associated with high blood pressure, diabetes and heart disease.

Carotid arteries channel blood to the brain, and if they become too narrow, a stroke or a transient ischemic attack (mini-stroke) may occur.

Symptoms & Causes of Carotid Artery Disease

Since each section of the brain controls different bodily functions, symptoms of carotid artery disease, or a stroke, can vary depending on the location of the narrowed artery. Common symptoms include:

  • Dizziness
  • Headache
  • Speech and comprehension difficulties
  • Weakness in or inability to move limbs
  • Vision impairment

Along with plaque build-up in the arteries, family history of the disease and genetics also are key risk factors. Additional health concerns and behaviors — such as alcohol and/or drug use, smoking, diabetes, high cholesterol and/or high blood pressure — can also increase the risk of disease.

Diagnosing & Treating Carotid Artery Disease

Our vascular surgeons work together with a multidisciplinary team that includes neurologists and interventionalists to provide optimal care to patients with carotid artery disease.

Getting an accurate, early diagnosis offers patients the best chance for a successful outcome. Through our Dare to C.A.R.E. program, we offer free screenings for those at risk for carotid artery disease.

Treatment plans — including medical, interventional and surgical options — are personalized for each patient. The team may recommend medical treatment and close follow-up for patients with mild carotid artery disease. For more severe disease, carotid artery stenting or surgical removal of the plaque inside the carotid artery (carotid endarterectomy) may be performed to reduce the risk of stroke.

Our staff is knowledgeable and fully trained in minimally invasive and surgical techniques, providing the patient with a full range of options. We also offer treatment for less common cerebrovascular conditions — such as fibromuscular dysplasia, vertebral artery disease, subclavian artery disease and aneurysms in the blood vessels of the neck.

The neurovascular surgery team offers options of extracranial to intracranial bypass, carotid microsurgery and the repair of intracranial aneurysms and other vascular anomalies.  

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Understanding Carotid Artery Disease

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