You have a large artery on each side of your neck that brings blood to the face and brain—these are called carotid arteries. If plaque builds up in either of these arteries enough to cause a blockage, it can reduce blood flow and potentially cause a stroke. Carotid artery surgery is used to treat these obstructions in the carotid arteries in order to restore healthy blood flow to the brain.
There are two types of carotid surgery:
- Carotid artery angioplasty with stenting – This procedure widens the narrowed artery by compressing the plaque and using a mesh tube to permanently prop the artery open.
- Carotid endarterectomy – This type of surgery removes plaque from an artery wall.
When a buildup of plaque occurs in one of the carotid arteries, it is a condition known as carotid artery disease. When carotid artery disease restricts blood flow, the brain cannot receive the oxygen and glucose it needs to function. Carotid surgery is performed to remove the buildup in the carotid artery.
To perform carotid artery angioplasty with stenting, surgeons insert a narrow catheter with a balloon tip into a blood vessel in the groin. Using imaging guidance, the catheter is then threaded through the tube to the narrowed portion of the carotid artery. The balloon tip is inflated to push the plaque to the side and widen the artery. A stent (small metal mesh tube) is placed into the vessel to help prevent the artery from narrowing again.
For carotid endarterectomy, a small incision is made in the front of the neck to explore the carotid artery. The artery is clamped to prevent bleeding and, in some cases, the surgeon may use a shunt to divert blood flow from below the clamp to above the surgery site. Next, an incision is made in the carotid artery itself, exposing the plaque. The surgeon removes the inner wall of the artery and the attached plaque.
What to Expect
Complications can happen with carotid surgery as with any medical procedure. Potential risks include:
- Blood clots or bleeding in the brain
- Heart attack
- Brain damage
- More blockage of the carotid artery over time
- Swelling near your airway (the tube you breathe through)
Carotid artery surgery may help lower your chance of having a stroke. Lifestyles changes such as quitting smoking, maintaining a healthy weight and exercising regularly can help you maintain your positive surgery results.