Carotid Endarterectomy (Surgery for Blocked Carotid Artery)

What is a carotid endarterectomy?

A carotid endarterectomy is surgery to remove a blockage in a carotid artery. The carotid arteries, one on each side of your neck, are blood vessels that bring blood to your head and brain.

When is it used?

This procedure may be done when a carotid artery is more than 70% blocked by plaque. Plaque is a fatty deposit that can build up in blood vessels and make them narrower. The narrowing decreases the amount of blood flow to your brain. Pieces of plaque may break off from the wall of a blood vessel and form clots that can block blood flow to the brain. The blockage can cause a transient ischemic attack (TIA) or stroke. Removing the plaque can help prevent strokes.

Ask your healthcare provider about your choices for treatment and the risks.

How do I prepare for this procedure?

  • Make plans for your care and recovery after you have the procedure. Find someone to give you a ride home after the procedure. Allow for time to rest and try to find other people to help with your day-to-day tasks while you recover.
  • Follow your provider's instructions about not smoking before and after the procedure. Smokers may have more breathing problems during the procedure and heal more slowly. It is best to quit 6 to 8 weeks before surgery.
  • You may or may not need to take your regular medicines the day of the procedure. Some medicines (like aspirin) may increase your risk of bleeding during or after the procedure. Tell your healthcare provider about all medicines and supplements that you take. Ask your provider if you need to avoid taking any medicine or supplements before the procedure.
  • Your provider will tell you when to stop eating and drinking before the procedure. This helps to keep you from vomiting during the procedure.
  • Follow any other instructions your healthcare provider gives you.
  • Ask any questions you have before the procedure. You should understand what your healthcare provider is going to do. You have the right to make decisions about your healthcare and to give permission for any tests or procedures.

What happens during the procedure?

The surgery is usually done at the hospital.

You will be given medicine to keep you from feeling pain. Depending on the medicine, you may be awake or asleep during the procedure.

Your healthcare provider will make a cut in your neck and artery and remove the blockage. Your provider will then repair the artery and close the cut in your neck.

The procedure should take 1 to 2 hours.

What happens after the procedure?

You may stay in the hospital 1 or more days, depending on your condition. You may need medicine to help prevent blood clots after the surgery.

Ask your healthcare provider:

  • How long it will take to recover
  • What activities you should avoid and when you can return to your normal activities
  • How to take care of yourself at home
  • What symptoms or problems you should watch for and what to do if you have them

Make sure you know when you should come back for a checkup.

What are the risks of this procedure?

Every procedure or treatment has risks. Some possible risks of this procedure include:

  • You may have problems with anesthesia.
  • You may have infection or bleeding, including bleeding in the brain.
  • Because there is a blockage in a carotid artery, you may also have blockage in your heart or other blood vessels. This increases your risk of a heart attack during the operation.
  • The nerves in your neck may be injured, causing weakness of your voice box, speech function, or tongue muscles.
  • You may have high blood pressure after the procedure.
  • You may have a stroke during the operation or recovery period.

Ask your healthcare provider how these risks apply to you. Be sure to discuss any other questions or concerns that you may have.

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