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Carotid arteries can become stiff and narrow over time due to a gradual accumulation of plaques, which can restrict blood flow and result in carotid artery disease. Plaques consist of clumps of cholesterol, calcium, fibrous tissue and other cellular debris that gather at microscopic injury sites within the artery, creating a blood clot (thrombus). This process is called atherosclerosis.

Normal, healthy carotid arteries — like any other healthy artery — are smooth and flexible and provide a clear pathway for blood flow. If you place a finger under your jawbone on either side of your Adam's apple, you may feel your carotid artery pulse. Your carotid arteries carry oxygen- and nutrient-rich blood to your cerebral cortex and other vital brain structures, which are responsible for your day-to-day functioning.

Oct. 01, 2011