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Diseases reference index «Carotid artery surgery»

Carotid artery surgeryCarotid artery surgeryCarotid artery surgery

Carotid artery surgery is a procedure to restore proper blood flow to the brain.


You have an artery on each side of your neck called the carotid artery. This artery brings needed blood to your brain and face.

The blood flow in this artery can become partly or totally blocked by fatty material called plaque. A partial blockage is called carotid artery stenosis (narrowing). A blockage in your carotid artery can reduce the blood supply to your brain. A stroke can occur if your brain does not get enough blood.

There are two invasive ways to treat a carotid artery that has plaque buildup in it. One is surgery called endarterectomy. The other is a procedure called angioplasty with stent placement.

During carotid endarterectomy:

  • You will probably receive general anesthesia. This will make you unconscious and unable to feel pain. Some hospitals may use local anesthesia instead. With local anesthesia, only the part of your body being worked on will be made numb with medicine so that you will not feel pain.
  • You will lie on your back on a padded operating table with your head turned to one side. The side that will face up is the side your blocked carotid artery is on.
  • Your surgeon will make a surgical cut on your neck over your carotid artery. Your surgeon will put a catheter (a flexible tube) in place. Blood will flow through the catheter around the blocked area during surgery.
  • Then your surgeon will open your carotid artery. The surgeon will remove the plaque inside your artery.
  • Your artery will be closed up with stitches after the plaque is removed. Blood will now flow through the artery to your brain.
  • Your heart and brain activity will be monitored closely during your surgery.

Why the Procedure is Performed

There are several ways your doctor may know you have narrowing or blockage in your carotid artery. Two common ones are:

  • You may have had symptoms of a stroke or a transient ischemic attack (TIA, also called a mini-stroke). Some of these symptoms are weakness, blurred vision, confusion, or slurred speech.
  • You may not have any symptoms, but your doctor may find a problem during a physical exam. Your doctor may hear something called a bruit when using a stethoscope to listen to your blood flow. A bruit is an abnormal sound in your artery.

Your doctor will need to do one or more tests to see how blocked one or both of your carotid arteries are.

Treatment options not involving surgery that your doctor will discuss with you are:

  • No treatment, other than checking your carotid artery with tests every year
  • Medicine and diet to lower your cholesterol
  • Tests to check your carotid artery and blood-thinning medicines to lower your risk of stroke. Some of these medicines are aspirin, clopidogrel (Plavix), and warfarin (Coumadin).

Surgery or angioplasty to remove the buildup in your carotid artery may be done if the carotid artery is narrowed by more than 70%, or if the narrowing is between 50% and 70% and your doctor feels that you have a very high risk of having a stroke.

If you have had a stroke, your doctor will consider whether treating your blocked artery with surgery is safe for you. Your doctor will compare your risk of having another stroke if you do not have surgery with the risk of having serious problems from the surgery itself.

Carotid angioplasty and stenting is more likely to be used when carotid endarterectomy would not be safe.


The risks for any anesthesia are:

  • Allergic reactions to medicines
  • Breathing problems

The risks for any surgery are:

  • Bleeding
  • Infection

Risks of carotid surgery are:

  • Blood clots or bleeding in the brain
  • Brain damage
  • Heart attack
  • More blockage of the carotid artery over time
  • Seizures (this is rare)
  • Stroke (this is rare)
  • Swelling near your airway (the tube you breathe through)

Before the Procedure

Your doctor will do a thorough physical exam and several medical tests.

Always tell your doctor or nurse what drugs you are taking, even drugs, supplements, or herbs you bought without a prescription.

During the 2 weeks before your surgery:

  • A few days before the surgery, you may need to stop taking drugs that make it harder for your blood to clot. These include aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), clopidogrel (Plavix), naprosyn (Aleve, Naproxen), and other drugs like these.
  • Ask your doctor which drugs you should still take on the day of your surgery.
  • If you smoke, you need to stop. Ask your doctor or nurse for help quitting.
  • Always let your doctor know about any cold, flu, fever, herpes breakout, or other illness you may have before your surgery.

Do NOT drink anything after midnight the night before your surgery, including water.

On the day of your surgery:

  • Take any drugs your doctor prescribed with a small sip of water.
  • Your doctor or nurse will tell you when to arrive at the hospital.

After the Procedure

You may have a drain in your neck that goes into your incision. It will drain fluid that builds up in the area. It will be removed within a day.

After surgery, your doctor may want you to stay in the hospital overnight so that nurses can watch you for any signs of bleeding, stroke, or poor blood flow to your brain. You may be able to go home the same day if your operation is done early in the day and you are doing well.

Outlook (Prognosis)

Carotid artery surgery may help lower your chance of having a stroke. But you will need to make lifestyle changes to help prevent plaque buildup, blood clots, and other problems in your carotid arteries over time. You may need to change your diet and start an exercise program, if your doctor tells you exercise is safe for you.

Alternative Names

Carotid endarterectomy; CEA; Carotid angioplasty and stenting; CAS; Endarterectomy - carotid artery; Angioplasty - carotid artery; Percutaneous transluminal angioplasty - carotid artery; PTA - carotid artery; Angioplasty - carotid artery