In its early stages, carotid artery disease often doesn't produce any signs or symptoms. You and your doctor may not know you have carotid artery disease until it's serious enough to deprive your brain of blood, causing a stroke or TIA — an early warning sign of a future stroke.

Signs and symptoms of a stroke or TIA may include:

  • Sudden numbness or weakness in the face or limbs, often on only one side of the body
  • Trouble speaking and understanding
  • Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes
  • Dizziness or loss of balance
  • A sudden, severe headache with no known cause

When to see a doctor

Talk to your doctor if you have risk factors for carotid artery disease. Your doctor may do some tests to see what shape your arteries are in. Even if you don't have any signs or symptoms, your doctor may recommend aggressive management of your risk factors to protect you from stroke.

Seek emergency care if you experience any of the signs or symptoms of a transient ischemic attack or stroke.

Even if the signs and symptoms last only a short while — usually less than an hour but possibly longer — and then you feel normal, tell your doctor right away. What you may have experienced is a TIA, a temporary shortage of blood flow to a region of your brain. A TIA is an important sign that you're at high risk of having a full-blown stroke, so don't ignore it.

Seeing a doctor early increases your chances that carotid artery disease will be detected and treated before a disabling stroke occurs. It's also possible that a TIA can be due to lack of blood flow in other blood vessels. Your doctor will determine which testing is necessary.

Make sure your close friends and family know the signs and symptoms of stroke and understand that it's critical to act fast in the event of a possible stroke.

Oct. 01, 2011