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Symptoms of Carotid Artery Disease

When the carotid arteries are compromised due to interrupted blood flow to the brain, a variety of symptoms can result, including heart attack and stroke. A heart attack and a stroke are medical emergencies. It's important to note that not all of these signs occur in every attack. If you notice one or more of the signs, do not wait to call 911. 

Heart attack

Acute chest pain is the most common warning sign of heart attacks in both men and women. While men occasionally report nausea or dizziness, women are significantly more likely to experience atypical symptoms, sometimes leading them to disregard the signs.

Warning signs of a heart attack for men include:

  • Cold sweat
  • Pain in the left arm
  • Squeezing in the chest, chest pressure
  • Pain that spreads to the neck, shoulder and jaw

Warning signs of a heart attack for women include:

  • Lower chest pain
  • Back or jaw pain
  • Palpitations
  • Dizziness
  • Unexplained fatigue / anxiety
  • Nausea
  • Shortness of breath

Stroke or mini-stroke

When symptoms of a stroke occur for only a brief period of time, it is called a mini-stroke, also known as a transient ischemic attack (TIA). Transient means brief and ischemic means a shortage of blood supply. The symptoms may last from a few seconds to many hours, but it must go away within 24 hours to be called a TIA. If the symptoms last longer than 24 hours, a stroke has occurred. However, a stroke or mini-stroke may occur with no warning signs or symptoms. People who have a TIA related to carotid artery disease are at higher risk of having a major stroke at a later date. 

Symptoms of carotid artery disease and/or stroke depend on the part of the brain that is affected. Each part of the brain controls certain parts of the body. For example, when an artery to the eye is blocked or narrowed, vision may be affected.

Warning signs and symptoms of a stroke or mini-stroke include: 

  • Sudden weakness or numbness of the face, or inability to move arm or leg on one side of the body
  • Sudden dimness or loss of vision, particularly in one eye
  • Loss of speech, or trouble talking or understanding speech
  • Sudden, severe headaches with no apparent cause
  • Unexplained dizziness, unsteadiness or sudden falls, especially along with any of the previous symptoms

Meet the Carotid Artery Disease Team

Northwestern Medicine Bluhm Cardiovascular Institute is a nationally recognized destination for those who require highly specialized cardiovascular care.

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