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Carotid Endarterectomy

If your carotid arteries become narrowed or blocked by plaque, you may be at risk for stroke.

Vascular surgeons perform carotid endarterectomy to remove plaque from the carotid arteries and lower your stroke risk.

At the UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute, our vascular surgeons are experts at carotid endarterectomy. We take a team approach and quickly diagnose and treat each patient based on their personal needs.

Make an appointment for carotid endarterectomy

To see a vascular surgeon at the UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute:

What is Carotid Endarterectomy?

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

Carotid endarterectomy is a surgical procedure that removes blockages from your carotid arteries to help prevent stroke.

Conditions We Treat with Carotid Endarterectomy

A carotid endarterectomy can treat carotid artery stenosis, or the narrowing of the carotid arteries.

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

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

In some cases, a TIA or stroke is the first sign of a blocked carotid artery.

The type of treatment will depend on the severity of the blockage in the artery. Your doctor may suggest a carotid endarterectomy to restore healthy blood flow and lower your risk of stroke of TIA if your carotid arteries are more than 80 percent narrowed. 

The Carotid Endarterectomy Process: What Should I Expect?

Before your carotid endarterectomy procedure

Your doctor will ask about your medical history and give you a physical exam.

You may also undergo a series of tests, such as:

  • 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.

During your carotid endarterectomy

During this procedure, we will place you under general anesthesia.

Once you're asleep, your surgeon will:

  • Make a small cut in your neck to access your artery.
  • Remove the plaque to restore healthy blood flow.
  • Close the cut once the artery is clear.

This procedure can take up to two hours, and most patients can return home within one or two days.

After your carotid endarterectomy

After your surgery, your neck may be sore. It's important to understand the amount of physical activity you will be able to take on, and when you may be able to return to work and other daily activities.

Your surgeon will recommend lifestyle changes, like:

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

He or she may also recommend medicines to help control your cholesterol or blood pressure and help prevent future blockages.

Carotid Endarterectomy Risks

Like any medical procedure, carotid endarterectomy can have risks. These may include:

  • Stroke
  • Blood clots or bleeding in the brain
  • Seizures
  • Heart attack
  • Nerve damage that affects your voice box, tongue, or back

Why Choose UPMC for Your Carotid Endarterectomy Procedure?

The vascular surgeons at the UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute are experts at carotid endarterectomy.

If carotid endarterectomy isn’t the best option for you, we'll recommend other treatments that better suit your needs.

Learn More About Cardiovascular Tests and Procedures

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