Carotid endarterectomy (CEA) is a treatment for carotid artery disease. The carotid arteries are the main blood vessels that carry oxygen and blood to the brain. In carotid artery disease, these arteries become narrowed. This reduces blood flow to the brain and could cause a stroke.
For a carotid endarterectomy, your doctor will surgically remove plaque that builds up inside the carotid artery. He or she will make an incision on the side of the neck over the affected carotid artery. The artery is opened and the plaque removed. Your doctor will stitch the artery back together, restoring normal blood flow to the brain. You may have this procedure while you are awake under local anesthesia or while you are asleep under general anesthesia.
Narrowing of the carotid arteries is most often caused by atherosclerosis. This is a buildup of plaque in the inner lining of the artery. Plaque is made up of fatty substances, cholesterol, cellular waste products, calcium, and fibrin. Atherosclerosis, or "hardening of the arteries," can affect arteries throughout the body. Carotid artery disease is similar to coronary artery disease, in which blockages occur in the arteries of the heart, and may cause a heart attack. In the brain, it can lead to stroke.
The brain needs a constant supply of oxygen and nutrients to function. Even a brief break in blood supply can cause problems. Brain cells start to die after just a few minutes without blood or oxygen. If the narrowing of the carotid arteries becomes severe enough to block blood flow, or a piece of plaque breaks off and blocks blood flow to the brain, a stroke may occur.
You may or may not have symptoms of carotid artery disease. Plaque buildup may not be blocking enough blood flow to cause symptoms. A transient ischemic attack (TIA) or a stroke may be the first sign of disease.
Your doctor may have other reasons to recommend a carotid endarterectomy.
Some possible complications of carotid endarterectomy include:
If you are allergic to or sensitive to medicines, contrast dye, iodine, or latex, tell your doctor. Also tell your doctor if you have kidney failure or other kidney problems.
There may be other risks based on your condition. Be sure to discuss any concerns with your doctor before the procedure.