Give Your Brain a Break, Keep The Blood Flowing

February 13, 2017

The two main blood vessels in the neck that supply blood to the brain are called the carotid arteries. When these arteries narrow, blood flow to the brain is reduced. This is called carotid artery stenosis. The gradual buildup of fatty substances and cholesterol deposits is called plaque.  Plaque occurs as we age, engage in unhealthy lifestyles and don’t manage risk factors, like high cholesterol.

Often, there are often no symptoms until a stroke occurs. So it is important to seek regular physical exams. If your doctor hears an abnormal sound in these arteries a carotid duplex or Doppler ultrasound may be required to examine the blood flow and look for plaque or blood clots.

Medication may be prescribed if less than 50% of the artery is blocked. If more than a 70% blockage is present a carotid endarterectomy or a carotid angioplasty / stenting procedure can improve blood flow to the brain.  Both procedures are usually conducted by a neurosurgeon. In the carotid endarterectomy, an incision is made in the neck and the plaque and diseased portions of the artery are removed to increase blood flow to the brain.

Richard Fessler, M.D., an endovascular neurosurgeon at MHSI explains, “In a carotid angioplasty, a catheter is inserted into the groin, through the aorta (the main blood vessel of your heart) in an attempt to clear the blockage and open up the artery. Sometimes a stent is inserted into the artery to keep the artery open and the blood flowing.”

For all patients, “These are much less invasive procedures than open surgery for all patients, but especially elderly patients,” adds Dr. Fessler.

If you find yourself in an emergency situation, like having a stroke that requires a carotid endarterectomy or angioplasty, or your doctor says you need one of these procedures ask for an MHSI neurosurgeon. To schedule an appointment, call 1-877-784-3667 or online at