What is a carotid endarterectomy?

A carotid endarterectomy, also known as a surgical endarterectomy, is a surgical procedure that is performed to open a carotid artery that has been blocked by plaque. The goal of a surgical endarterectomy is to prevent a stroke. Although the procedure is effective, some patients may experience a future blockage if your underlying condition is not managed.

Carotid endarterectomies are typically performed by experienced vascular surgeons.

Who is a candidate for carotid endarterectomy

You may be a candidate for a carotid endarterectomy if you:

  • Have a blocked artery that is 50 to 80 percent blocked and you are experiencing stroke symptoms such as drooping in one side of the face, arm weakness or slurred speech
  • Have a severely blocked artery (more than 80 percent blocked) despite not having any symptoms

What to expect during a carotid endarterectomy

A carotid endarterectomy is a procedure that is performed as an inpatient in the hospital. During the procedure, your surgeon will make an incision in your neck to reach the carotid artery. Your Mercy Health vascular surgeon will then make a cut into the blocked artery and remove the built-up plaque. The surgical team will insert a tube into the artery to allow blood to flow through the vessel until the plaque is cleaned out. Once the plaque is removed, your surgeon will close the artery and incision in the neck.

Risks of having a carotid endarterectomy

There are serious risks associated with having a carotid endarterectomy.

Potential life-threatening complications include:

  • Blood clots
  • Stroke
  • Heart attack

Your doctor may give you anti-clotting medications before surgery to decrease your risk of stroke or blood clots.

Less serious complications associated with a carotid endarterectomy include:

  • Reaction to anesthesia
  • Numbness in your face
  • Bleeding
  • Infection
  • High blood pressure
  • Heart attack
  • Seizures 

Women, patients with chronic kidney disease or diabetes and elderly patients are more at risk for complications.

Recovery from carotid endarterectomy

You will have to stay in the hospital for approximately two days after surgery. Many patients have pain at the incision site and have difficulty swallowing.

Your doctor will likely prescribe anti-clotting medications as well as provide education on lifestyle modifications you can make to keep the carotid arteries healthy.

When discharged from the hospital, you will not be able to drive until you are no longer on pain medications.

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