The carotid arteries are situated on the neck and lay either side of the windpipe. These are the major arteries that supply blood to the brain and other organs of the head. These arteries are smooth inside with no obstructions to the flow of blood. As we get older a fatty build up called plaque can occur over time, this plaque causes a narrowing in these arteries called an obstruction or stenosis that interferes with the blood flow. This process is known as atherosclerosis or hardening of the arteries. The surface of the plaque can become ulcerated which can allow blood clots to form and break off. Small particles of plaque may also dislodge/break off and be carried to the brain where they may block smaller arteries and may cause mini strokes.
Not all people detected with a stenosis of the carotid arteries will require surgery. The narrowing of the blood flow can vary from a slight restriction to a severe stenosis only allowing a trickle of blood to be able to pass through. Most people will be monitored for their carotid disease with ultrasound scans and for symptoms by regular clinic visits to determine if surgery is necessary. Other scans such as MRI, CT or carotid angiogram may also be used to determine necessary treatment.