What is Carotid Artery Stenosis?

What is Carotid Artery Stenosis?

Carotid artery disease—also called carotid artery stenosis or carotid stenosis—occurs when the blood vessels in your neck that provide your brain with blood become blocked. It may be present in as many as 5% of the population. Because carotid artery blockage is a common cause of stroke, treating and preventing it is critical to reduce the risk of stroke.

NewYork-Presbyterian’s neurosurgeons, neurologists, and neuroradiologists have exceptional expertise in caring for people with carotid artery stenosis. Our hospital is a recognized leader in carotid stenosis treatment and research.

Carotid artery stenosis classification

Carotid artery stenosis may be unilateral (blockage in the carotid artery on one side of the neck) or bilateral (blockages on both sides.) The percentage of the artery that is blocked or the narrowing of the carotid artery determines how severe the stenosis is:

  • Mild stenosis is less than a 50% blockage (less than half of the artery is blocked)
  • Moderate stenosis occurs when 50% to 79% of the artery is blocked
  • Severe carotid stenosis means 80% or more of an artery is blocked

Signs & Symptoms of Carotid Artery Stenosis


Carotid artery stenosis may exist without causing any symptoms. A person may experience symptoms if a transient ischemic attack (TIA or “mini-stroke”) or a stroke occurs. During a TIA, blood flow to part of the brain is temporarily restricted, leading to symptoms that may resemble those of a stroke but are milder and may last only a few minutes.

Symptoms of a stroke or TIA

When carotid stenosis causes a TIA or a stroke, symptoms may include:

  • Weakness or paralysis of an arm and/or leg on one side of the body
  • Loss of coordination or movement
  • Confusion, dizziness, or fainting
  • Loss of sensation in the face, an arm, or a leg
  • Problems with speech or vision


What Causes Carotid Artery Stenosis?


Carotid artery stenosis develops due to atherosclerosis: the accumulation of plaque in an artery due to the build-up of fat, cholesterol, calcium, and other substances in the blood as people age. Excess cholesterol gets stuck inside the blood vessel, and the body responds by sending inflammatory cells to the area, leading to plaque formation.

Carotid stenosis may also be caused by radiation treatment for head and neck cancer and by some inflammatory conditions that trigger abnormalities in the carotid arteries. Carotid stenosis does not always result in a stroke but raises the risk of having one.

Risk Factors for Carotid Artery Stenosis

Risk Factors

Several factors have been identified as raising the risk of carotid artery stenosis, including:

  • Cigarette smoking
  • High blood cholesterol, especially LDL (“bad”) cholesterol
  • Eating a diet high in fat
  • High blood pressure
  • Not getting enough physical activity
  • Certain genetic factors, such as a family history of heart disease
  • Diabetes

Carotid Artery Stenosis Prevention


You can take several steps to reduce your risk of developing carotid stenosis.

  • Don’t smoke. Cigarette smoking rises carotid stenosis risk.
  • Eat a healthy diet that is high in fruits and vegetables and low in fat and cholesterol
  • Exercise regularly. Physical activity helps lower blood pressure and cholesterol, raise the level of HDL (“good”) cholesterol, reduce the risk of diabetes, and maintain a healthy weight
  • Take care of your overall health. If you have diabetes or high blood pressure, following your doctor’s advice for managing your health and taking medications as prescribed will also be good for your arteries
Get Care

Trust NewYork-Presbyterian for Carotid Artery Stenosis Care

NewYork-Presbyterian is one of the busiest centers in the Tri-State area for the treatment of carotid artery stenosis. The more experience a team has, the better the chance of a successful recovery. Many of our patients are transferred to our centers because we provide advanced neurologic care that is not available in many other hospitals.

Our specially trained neurologists, neurosurgeons, neurocritical care specialists, and nurses work together onsite 24/7 to care for people with carotid disease. Contact us today to make an appointment.