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Symptoms of Carotid Stenosis

written by: Emjay Annavi Baclay • edited by: Emma Lloyd • updated: 8/23/2010

Knowledge about carotid stenosis symptoms is essential especially because these may indicate the future occurrence of a full-blown stroke.

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    Arteries take the principal role of providing passageways that supply blood from the heart to different body parts, with the brain as one of its crucial recipients. Given the presence of carotid artery disease, the carotid arteries are obstructed and the brain fails to receive the necessary oxygen levels that enable it to function.

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    What is Carotid Artery Stenosis?

    Carotid artery stenosis or carotid artery disease pertains to a narrowing activity within the heart’s carotid arteries, usually as a result of atherosclerosis or the build-up of plaque. As the build-up of fatty materials increases, it eventually forms a plaque under the carotid arterial wall’s inner lining. Further build-up causes stenosis (narrowing) within the carotid arteries and cause obstruction in the passageways. As a result, oxygenated blood flow towards the brain is significantly reduced.

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    What are the Symptoms of Carotid Stenosis ?

    Majority of those who have carotid stenosis during the disease’s early stages do not experience carotid stenosis symptoms. The build-up of fatty plaque deposits happen over time and the development of the condition is gradual. This is the reason why no symptoms are felt early on and the disease is not diagnosed during its early stages, except when a person undergoes customary physical examination. Some patients though, come to their doctors complaining of hearing a “swishing" sound either in the left or the right ear, which typically accompanies each heartbeat. This swishing sound is heard when blood flows against a blockage, or a narrowed portion, in the carotid artery.

    When apparent signs and symptoms of carotid stenosis occur, however, this is usually indicative of a more serious state. This indicates that the disease has already progressed to a point where the brain is significantly being deprived of oxygenated blood. Some of the most common carotid stenosis symptoms include sudden bouts of weakness and muddled speech, which largely indicate an increased risk of experiencing stroke.

    At times, carotid stenosis can bring about symptoms of transient ischemic attack (TIA) — a “mini" or temporary stroke that cautions the possibility of a full-blown stroke in the future. The person may experience symptoms that include sudden blindness in one eye, blurred vision, partial paralysis that typically manifests itself in one side of the body, numbness, a tingling sensation in the skin and garbled speech. While such symptoms are usually temporary and preventable, people who already suffer from TIA have greater risks to experience a stroke.

    The worst effect of carotid stenosis is a full-blown stroke. While the symptoms may be similar to that of a transient ischemic attack – sudden unilateral weakness of the leg, arm and face; vision problems; speech difficulty – the difference mainly lies in the duration. The patient experiences these symptoms longer than in TIA, and these may be more permanent causing paralysis to one side of the body. Additional signs and symptoms include the loss of coordination and balance; personality changes, as well as severe headache which occurs suddenly.

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