The carotid arteries in the neck become blocked when excessive plaque builds up on their interior walls, according to Cleveland Clinic. As substances such as cholesterol, fat, calcium and cellular waste pass through the bloodstream, harmful deposits stick to the artery walls and form plaque, causing a condition known as atherosclerosis. Over time, carotid artery disease develops when the artery pathways become so narrow that blood flow between the heart and brain slows down.
Carotid artery disease is more likely to develop in people with a family history of atherosclerosis, high blood pressure or high cholesterol, states MedicineNet. Blocked carotid arteries are more common in older individuals, and other major risk factors include smoking, poorly managed diabetes, high blood sugar, abdominal obesity and low HDL cholesterol levels. Poor diet and lifestyle choices escalate the cycle of atherosclerosis by triggering blood pressure spikes as the arterial pathways narrow, causing increased damage to the inner walls of blood vessels.
Blocked carotid arteries are a dangerous health condition requiring timely medical attention because an obstruction prevents oxygen from reaching the brain, explains Cleveland Clinic. Carotid artery disease has no symptoms, but it causes transient ischemic attacks, or TIAs, and stroke. TIAs are known as mini strokes and cause similar symptoms, such as difficulty swallowing, slurred speech, vision loss, poor coordination and facial or bodily weakness. People who suffer from TIAs are 10 times more likely to develop a stroke.