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Carotid Artery Angioplasty and Stenting

Blocked carotid arteries can lead to serious, even life-threatening health problems like stroke.

Vascular surgeons perform carotid angioplasty and stenting procedures to open blocked carotid arteries and help lower your risk of stroke.

At the UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute, our vascular surgeons are experts in carotid angioplasty and stenting. We take a team approach to quickly diagnose and treat each patient we see based on their individual needs.

Contact the UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute

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What is Carotid Artery Angioplasty and Stenting?

Your carotid arteries are the vessels that supply oxygen-rich blood to your brain, neck, and face.

Carotid angioplasty and stenting is a procedure that first uses a balloon-tipped catheter to open the blocked artery. Then, a metal mesh tube is used to keep the artery open and allow for normal blood flow.

Conditions We Treat with Carotid Angioplasty and Stenting

Carotid angioplasty and stenting can treat carotid artery stenosis — the narrowing of the carotid arteries due to plaque build-up.

Carotid artery stenosis can lead to serious, even life-threatening conditions like:

  • Stroke
  • Transient ischemic attack (also called a TIA or mini-stroke)

In some cases, a stroke or mini-stroke is the first sign of a blocked carotid artery. These conditions are medical emergencies that can lead to permanent disability and death without immediate treatment. 

If you think you or someone else is having a stroke or mini-stroke, call 911 right away.

The Carotid Angioplasty and Stenting Process: What Should I Expect?

Before your carotid angioplasty and stenting procedure

Your doctor will go over your medical history and perform a physical exam.

You may also have a series of tests, including:

  • Ultrasound — a test that produces images through sound waves, and determines the extent of the narrowed artery and the blood flow to the brain.
  • Magnetic resonance angiography (MRA) — provides detailed imaging through radiofrequency waves in a magnetic field.
  • Angiography — an invasive test that uses special x-ray imaging to accurately find blockages and their extent in the arteries.

In the days before your treatment, you will need to take aspirin and clopidogrel (Plavix®). These prevent blood clots from building up inside the stent and helps to prevent pre-operative stroke.

Talk with your doctor about all medicines you take and ask what is safe to take before your procedure.

During carotid angioplasty and stenting

You will get medicine to help you relax and medicine to numb the area of your puncture site.

During your procedure, your surgeon will then:

  • Make a small puncture in your groin and insert a thin, flexible tube — called a catheter — with a balloon at its tip.
  • Use special x-ray imaging — called fluoroscopy — to guide the catheter to the blockage in your carotid artery.
  • Inflate the balloon, pushing the plaque out of the way and restoring blood flow.
  • Place a stent — a small tube made of metal mesh — to hold your artery open. A stent acts as a brace against your artery wall.

This procedure typically takes up to two hours. Most patients can go home within one or two days.

After your carotid angioplasty and stenting

After your procedure, your surgeon will remove the catheter and place a bandage at your puncture site. He or she will let you know when you can return to work and your other daily activities.

Your surgeon will suggest lifestyle changes, like:

  • Eating a healthy diet.
  • Getting regular exercise.
  • Quitting smoking.

You will also need medicine to help:

  • Prevent blood clots, most often aspirin and clopidogrel (Plavix®).
  • Control your cholesterol and blood pressure if needed.

Carotid Angioplasty and Stenting Risks

Like any medical procedure, carotid angioplasty and stenting can have risks.

These may include:

  • Bleeding
  • Blood clots
  • Heart attack
  • Kidney failure
  • Restenosis (when the carotid artery with the stent becomes blocked again)
  • Stroke or mini-stroke (TIA)

Why Choose UPMC for Your Carotid Angioplasty and Stenting Procedure?

The vascular surgeons at the UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute are experts in carotid angioplasty and stenting procedures.

If carotid angioplasty and stenting isn’t the best option for you, we will recommend other treatment options.

Learn More About Cardiovascular Tests and Procedures

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