What Causes a Stroke?
A stroke can occur when blood flow to your brain is cut off. One of the major causes of this blood flow restriction is carotid artery disease, in which a waxy cholesterol plaque builds up inside the two carotid arteries and blocks or restricts blood flow. The longer the blood flow is cut off from your brain, the worse a stroke can be, sometimes even causing permanent brain damage.
In addition to restricting blood flow to your brain, plaque can also cause blood clots to form. If one of those clots breaks off and travels to your brain that can cause a stroke. Just like with your heart, plaque build-up is a dangerous situation.
Am I at Risk?
If you smoke, don’t get enough exercise, have diabetes, have certain genetic factors, or are obese and have high cholesterol, you have a moderate to high risk of plaque build-up. But there are no outward symptoms of this build-up.
Find Out Your Stroke Risk
Dr. Ellen Derrick can assess your risk of a stroke with a test called a carotid duplex scan. The test is painless and easy. Two types of ultrasound (conventional and Doppler) are used to look for blockages in both carotid arteries. She will ask you not to smoke or drink caffeine for two hours before your test. Wear comfortable clothing with an open neck and don’t wear any jewelry. The test will take about 30 minutes to complete.
Once Dr. Derrick has the results of this test, she can assess your stroke risk and treat any issues with surgery or medication. Surgery can remove any plaque that may be present. Another option is a stent, in which a catheter is threaded through your carotid artery to where the blockage is located. The catheter inflates a small balloon to flatten the plaque and then a stent is inserted to keep the artery open. Medication options include blood thinners or medication to control cholesterol levels.
The key to this test is catching any problems early before they cause you to have a stroke. Of course, a lifestyle adjustment of moderate exercise, quitting smoking and a healthful diet are also important and go hand in hand with Dr. Derrick’s treatments.