On each side of the neck, a blood vessel brings blood to and from the heart. The blood vessel leading to the heart is called the carotid artery; the vessel going back to the heart is called the jugular vein.
If you've ever taken your pulse at the neck, you'll have felt the blood coursing through your carotid artery. Part of the carotid on each side brings blood to the face, and part to the brain.
Blockage of the internal carotid artery can reduce blood supply to the brain, causing a stroke. Fat and cholesterol can cause plaque to build up inside the blood vessels. The plaque can blocks blood flowing through the vessel, or make it flow abnormally. Blood will begin to clot around the plaque and this can block up the blood vessel too. If the clot breaks off, it can get wedged into a smaller vessel and block the blood there. Blockages in the brain cause strokes.
WHAT ARE THE RISK FACTORS FOR CAROTID ARTERY DISEASE?
- Family history of atherosclerosis (either coronary artery disease or carotid artery disease)
- Age (greater in men than women younger than 75, but higher in women older than 75)
- Hypertension (high blood pressure)
- High levels of LDL (the "bad" cholesterol) -- although this link is not as strong as it is for coronary artery disease.