What is the Carotid Arteries function?

Arteries play a vital role in transporting oxygen-rich blood from the heart to other body parts.

The carotid arteries help to carry blood into the brain and other parts of a person’s head, making it important for brain function.

Keep reading about the carotid arteries for more details including their anatomy and function. We are also discussing the role they play in carotid artery disease.

Anatomy

Carotid Arteries image

The carotid arteries branch out from the aorta artery, which carries blood from the heart and is the largest artery in the body.

The carotid arteries bring blood up into the brain through the back. Two carotid arteries exist: one on the left, and one on the right.

Each of them branches off into an internal carotid artery and outer carotid artery in the neck.

The location of the branched carotid arteries is where a human, right under the jaw, can feel the pulse in their neck.

The carotid arteries have an additional 8 major divisions. The different divisions help carry blood to various parts of the head and face.

Function

The carotid arteries bring oxygen-rich blood from the heart to the head and brain. Some areas that help carotid arteries supply blood include the following:

  • brain
  • face
  • scalp
  • roof of the mouth
  • tongue
  • seventh cranial nerve
  • oral cavity
  • teeth
  • ears
  • supporting muscles in the face and neck

The brain cells will die off without enough blood flow and oxygen, resulting in brain damage.

Carotid artery disease

Carotid artery disease is a condition that narrows down the carotid arteries. This narrowing reduces the amount of blood rich in oxygen which can flow through these vessels.

Atherosclerosis, an accumulation of plaques composed of fatty deposits, cholesterol, and other substances, is the most common cause of carotid artery disease.

A number of factors placed a person at increased risk of developing carotid artery disease. Including:

  • diabetes
  • being male
  • having an elevated level of fats in the blood
  • obesity
  • reaching an older age
  • a diet high in saturated fats
  • family history
  • genetic factors
  • a sedentary lifestyle
  • smoking
  • high blood pressure

No signs of carotid artery disease can occur in a person. But, if the arteries get so small that they create a blockage they may suffer a transient ischemic attack (TIA) or stroke.

A TIA is similar to a stroke, because it involves short-term loss of blood flow to parts of the brain.

Unlike a stroke, but, TIA symptoms are acute, and usually will go away.

If a person has a TIA or a stroke they may show signs such as:

  • lack of coordination or inability to move
  • blurred vision
  • a sudden weakness, numbness, or paralysis on one side of the body
  • temporary vision loss
  • dizziness or fainting
  • confusion
  • inability to concentrate
  • slurred or incoherent speech
  • a headache

A stroke constitutes a medical emergency. Anyone seeing someone potentially having a stroke will immediately call 911 or local emergency number.

A doctor may use multiple different tests to determine if a person has carotid artery disease or has had a stroke or TIA. These measures encompass:

  • MRI scan
  • carotid artery duplex scan
  • auscultation (listening to the internal sounds of the body using a stethoscope) of the carotid arteries
  • CT scan
  • angiography
  • magnetic resonance angiography

Upon diagnosis of carotid artery disease by a doctor, they will prescribe treatment options to help avoid future complications.

Treatment 

Carotid artery disease has several treatment options.

If the narrowing of the carotid artery is less than 50%, a doctor will often treat the blockage with improvements in treatment and lifestyle.

They can prescribe medication as follows:

  • antihypertensives, which lower blood pressure
  • antihyperlipidemics, which lower blood lipid levels
  • antiplatelet medications

Possible lifestyle changes may include:

  • quitting smoking
  • exercising regularly
  • eating a more healthful and balanced diet

A doctor will prescribe additional procedures, such as carotid angioplasty with stenting (CAS), if a person has a more serious blockage. CAS describes a minimally invasive procedure. During a CAS operation, a doctor inserts through the groin of the person a thin hollow tube, or catheter, into the arteries. The catheter may have a balloon at its end which can be used by the doctor to increase the size of the artery so they can insert a stent in the artery.

The stent helps keep the artery open and minimizes the chance of blockages.

In some cases a doctor can prescribe an endarterectomy of carotids (CEA). A CEA is a procedure where the surgeon removes plaque from the carotid artery.

The diagnosis of a person can vary depending on their age, general health and medical background, as well as how the carotid artery disease has become advanced.

Summary

The carotid arteries are supplying blood to the brain and other head areas.

A person may develop carotid artery disease over time, which happens by narrowing certain blood vessels.

People who are concerned about their risk of TIA or stroke should talk to a doctor about the lifestyle changes and treatments.

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