What Is a Carotid Bruit?

Madeleine A.

A carotid bruit is a rushing sound in the carotid artery related to abnormal blood flow, and is detected by positioning a stethoscope over the carotid artery, located on the side of the neck. In addition, the presence of a carotid bruit may be symptomatic of an arterial blood clot. Typically, a carotid bruit does not produce symptoms, however, when one is detected, regular physical examinations need to be sought to evaluate cardiac and neurological health.

The carotid artery, which is located in the neck, supplies the brain with oxygenated blood.
The carotid artery, which is located in the neck, supplies the brain with oxygenated blood.

Sometimes, the body produces warning signs that a stroke may be imminent. One of these signs is a "mini stroke," or transient ischemic attack (TIA), which may alert the health care provider that the carotid artery may be blocked. Symptoms of a TIA include headache, dizziness, and visual disturbances. In addition, temporary paralysis or numbness may occur on one or both sides of the body. Symptoms of a TIA generally subside after a few hours, however, it should not be assumed that the patient is all right. Further evaluation and treatment are necessary to help reduce the risk of a more serious event.

Stroke is a severe effect of a blocked carotid artery and is caused when the blood flow to the brain is impeded. Strokes must be quickly diagnosed and treated because delayed stroke treatment can lead to permanent disability. Symptoms of a stroke, or cerebral vascular accident, include severe headache, dizziness, visual impairment, and numbness. In addition, alterations in taste or hearing, swallowing abnormalities, coordination difficulties, and weakness can occur. A stroke is a medical emergency, and when symptoms occur, the patient needs to be transported to the nearest hospital emergency room.

Sometimes, a carotid bruit can be present in the absence of significant disease. In these cases, no treatment other than regular monitoring is generally necessary. Treatment for carotid stenosis, or blockages in the carotid arteries, includes removing the blockage, and stenting the artery. In addition to listening for a carotid bruit in the artery, using ultrasound technology can also help evaluate the progress of carotid stenosis.

Lowering cholesterol and managing high blood pressure are important steps to take in the prevention of heart attack and stroke. In addition, avoiding smoking, eating a healthy diet, and exercising may also help reduce the risk of a cardiac or neurological event. When a carotid blockage has been diagnosed, the risk of stroke goes up, therefore, risk factors such as obesity, high blood pressure and high cholesterol must be managed to reduce the risk. Cholesterol-lowering medications can bring down total cholesterol levels as well as increase "good cholesterol" levels and reduce "bad cholesterol" levels, all of which important factors in minimizing stroke and heart attack risk.

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