Information Screening Stroke Carotid Artery Disease

Carotid artery disease is a chronic condition that often goes unrecognized because it doesn’t cause any symptoms until a stroke occurs. Preventative health screening for strokes and carotid artery disease can identify your risk for this serious medical issue. Because insurance doesn’t cover preventative measures and doctors can’t treat what they can’t diagnose, identifying your risk for carotid artery disease may uncover a need for early intervention, which could save your life.

What is a Stroke? What is Carotid Artery Disease?

A stroke is a serious medical emergency caused by the interruption of blood supply to the brain. When a stroke occurs, the brain is deprived of oxygen, which is essential for survival. Brain cells begin to die within minutes of a stroke, so prompt treatment is necessary. Strokes can be fatal or cause permanent brain damage, which may lead to long-lasting complications such as paralysis, difficulty talking or memory loss.

One of the most common causes of stroke is carotid artery disease, which occurs when the two large blood vessels in the neck–the carotid arteries–become clogged with fatty deposits from cholesterol and other substances. People with carotid artery disease have a high risk of blood clots forming in their carotid arteries, which may cause a stroke.

Carotid artery disease is asymptomatic, particularly in its early stages. The Mayo Clinic reports that four out of five people show no symptoms of the disease until they have a stroke (2009). That’s why health screening for carotid artery disease and stroke is so important.

Who is at Risk for Stroke and Carotid Artery Disease?

Some people are at higher risk for stroke and carotid artery disease than others. Common risk factors include:

  • A diet high in saturated or animal fat
  • Exercising fewer than three times per week, for 20 to 30 minutes at a time
  • High cholesterol levels, even if the person is taking medication for high cholesterol
  • High blood pressure, even if the person is taking medication for high blood pressure
  • Immediate family history (parent, sibling or child) of stroke or heart disease
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Smoking or a long history of smoking.

In addition, people age 50 and older have a higher risk of carotid artery disease than their younger counterparts. Men are at a higher risk than women. Anyone older than 50 should be screened for carotid artery disease. You should also be screened you are age 40 or older and have any of the risk factors for stroke.

How Does Stroke/Carotid Artery Disease Screening Work?

The health screening test for stroke and carotid artery disease is simple and non-invasive. You’ll be asked to lie on your back, and a technician will apply gel to your neck and use an instrument called a “transducer” to transmit images of your carotid arteries and evaluate how easily blood flows through them. This report will tell you whether you’re within the normal range for carotid artery disease risk, or if your risk is significantly higher.

Preventing Stroke and Carotid Artery Disease

Identifying your risk for stroke and carotid artery disease is the best step you can take for preventing this serious health issue. In addition, you can lower your risk by:

  • Controlling your blood pressure
  • Eating plenty of fruits and vegetables
  • Lowering the amount of cholesterol and saturated fat in your diet
  • Maintaining a healthy weight.

You can work to prevent stroke and carotid artery disease by abstaining from or reducing any intake of alcohol, tobacco and illicit drugs. If your health screening test indicates a high risk for carotid artery disease, your doctor may prescribe preventative medications such as anti-platelet drugs or anticoagulants, both of which prevent blood clots.

Resources

LifeLine Screening. (n.d.). Carotid artery disease/stroke screening. Retrieved August 24, 2010, from http://www.lifelinescreening.com/health-screening-services/carotid-artery-disease.aspx?WT.svl=1.

Mayo Clinic. (2009). Carotid artery disease. Retrieved August 24, 2010, from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/carotid-artery-disease/DS01030.

Medline Plus. (2010). Carotid artery disease. Retrieved August 24, 2010, from http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/carotidarterydisease.html.