Carotid artery disease may be asymptomatic (without symptoms) or symptomatic (with symptoms). Asymptomatic carotid disease is the presence of a significant amount of atherosclerotic build-up without obstructing enough blood flow to cause symptoms. However, a sufficiently tight stenosis will not always cause symptoms. Symptomatic carotid artery disease may result in either a transient ischemic attack (TIA) and/or a stroke (brain attack).
A transient ischemic attack (TIA) is a sudden or a temporary loss of blood flow to an area of the brain, usually lasting a few minutes to one hour. Symptoms usually go away entirely within 24 hours, with complete recovery. Symptoms of a TIA may include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Sudden weakness or clumsiness of an arm and/or leg on one side of the body
- Sudden paralysis (inability to move) of an arm and/or leg on one side of the body
- Loss of coordination or movement
- Confusion, dizziness, fainting, and/or headache
- Numbness or loss of sensation (feeling) in the face
- Numbness or loss of sensation in an arm and/or leg
- Temporary loss of vision or blurred vision
- Inability to speak clearly or slurred speech
TIA may be related to severe narrowing or blockage or from small pieces of an atherosclerotic plaque breaking off, traveling through the bloodstream, and lodging in small blood vessels in the brain. With TIA, there is rarely permanent brain damage.
Call for medical help immediately if you suspect a person is having a TIA, as it may be a warning sign that a stroke is about to occur. Not all strokes, however, are preceded by TIAs.
Stroke is another indicator of carotid artery disease. The symptoms of a stroke are the same as for a TIA. A stroke is loss of blood flow (ischemia) to the brain that continues long enough to cause permanent brain damage. Brain cells begin to die after just a few minutes without oxygen. The area of dead cells in tissues is called an infarct.
The area of the brain that suffered the loss of blood flow will determine what the physical or mental disability may be. This may include impaired ability with movement, speech, thinking and memory, bowel and bladder function, eating, emotional control, and other vital body functions. Recovery from the specific ability affected depends on the size and location of the stroke. A stroke may result in problems such as weakness in an arm or leg or may cause paralysis, loss of speech, or even death.
The symptoms of carotid artery disease may resemble other medical conditions or problems. Always consult your physician for a diagnosis.