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Carotid Artery Disease

Major Arteries in Neck Become Blocked 

Carotid artery disease occurs when the major arteries in your neck -- the ones that deliver oxygen-rich blood to your brain -- become blocked by the buildup of a fatty material called plaque.

Location in the Body

The carotid arteries extend from your aorta in your chest to your brain. There are two of them, one on each side of your neck. You can feel them, just under the angle of your jaw.

Result of Atherosclerosis

In carotid artery disease, also called carotid artery stenosis, the arteries become narrowed as a result of a condition called atherosclerosis.

  • This is the buildup of cholesterol, fat and other substances, which stick to the blood vessel walls over time and form a substance called plaque.
  • The more plaque that builds up, the narrower the arteries become, reducing the amount of blood that gets to the brain.
  • The condition is similar to coronary artery disease, where plaque buildup narrows arteries to the heart and leads to heart attack.

May Result in Stroke

In the case of carotid artery disease, the risk is that the blockage of blood flow to the brain will result in a stroke. If blood flow is cut off for more than just a few minutes, brain cells die. A stroke can result in permanent brain damage, long-term disability, paralysis or death.

Most strokes related to carotid artery disease occur when pieces of plaque or blood clots break away from artery walls and travel into the brain where they can block one of the brain's smaller arteries.

Strokes can also occur if blood clots form in the carotid arteries and totally block blood flow. This can happen if plaque in an artery bursts. Such clots can also block the arteries.

Contact Information

Cardiovascular Medicine
Division of the CardioVascular Institute
Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center
330 Brookline Avenue
Boston, MA 02215