"If you suddenly can't feel or move an arm or a leg, lose vision completely in one eye, or lose the ability to talk or understand speech, you're likely experiencing a stroke. Facial changes like a drooping eye or mouth and smiles that are irregular are also common signs," says Charles Joels, MD, vascular surgeon with University Surgical Associates (USA). "People experience a range of symptoms at different levels of severity. Sometimes the symptoms only last a short time – even as short as 20 seconds – but you should still seek help immediately even if the symptoms subside quickly."
What is a Stroke and What are the Symptoms?
A stroke occurs when the blood supply to your brain is interrupted or reduced, which deprives your brain of oxygen and nutrients – causing your brain cells to die. You may also hear strokes called brain attacks because of how quickly and tragically they affect the brain. When symptoms only last an hour or less, we typically call this a transient ischemic attack or TIA.
"TIAs or mini-strokes are often precursors to a larger, more debilitating stroke. But there are things we can do in terms of treatment and being proactive to help prevent a more severe stroke event," says Dr. Joels.
Many strokes are caused by carotid artery disease, a chronic health problem that occurs from the buildup of plaque in the carotid arteries. The carotids are the main arteries leading to the brain and are vital because they are the source of the oxygen-rich blood your brain needs to function properly. If plaque accumulates in them, these arteries become increasingly narrow and slow down blood flow, potentially causing a stroke if blood flow stops or plaque fragments travel to the brain.
What Does Carotid Artery Disease Have to Do with Strokes?
Carotid artery disease is estimated to be the source of stroke in up to a third of cases, with 427,000 new diagnoses of the disease made every year in the United States alone. It is vital to seek treatment for this condition quickly to prevent future health crises.
"There's no question that certain medications can lower your risk of stroke. Most individuals with artery disease should be on a daily aspirin regimen and cholesterol lowering medications. Statins are a class of drug that can drastically reduce person's risk of heart attack, stroke and even death," says Dr. Joels. "In terms of definitive treatment, most people who have an 80 to 90 percent narrowing in their carotid artery – even those who haven't had symptoms of stroke – would benefit from surgery to clean out the artery and restore blood flow.
Treatment options for carotid artery disease depend upon the severity of the overall patient condition and symptoms. The gold standard for treating a blocked carotid artery is a carotid endarterectomy. This open surgical procedure removes plaque from inside the carotid artery in order to restore normal blood flow to the brain. The surgeon makes an incision on the neck to access the affected artery, opens the artery and removes the plaque. The surgeon closes the artery and the incision in the neck using stitches.
"Amazingly, even with an open procedure, it's typically a one-night stay in the hospital where patients are monitored closely. Those who are doing well go home the next day, and if they haven't been limited by a stroke itself, are back to normal activities in a few weeks," shares Dr. Joels. "It's important to remember that there are many health conditions, including stroke, where delaying treatment may result in increased risk of death or debilitation. Getting the care needed to address stroke risk is important to increase the chance of getting better sooner – and limiting the potential for long term health damage."
To schedule an appointment with one of USA's board-certified vascular surgeons, call 423.267.0466. Learn more at universitysurgical.com.