Find out about carotid endarterectomy and when it is necessary. Carotid endarterectomy is a procedure which unblocks a carotid artery. The carotid arteries are the primary blood vessels that provide blood to the head and neck.

The operation - the anaesthetic

Carotid endarterectomy can be done with either local or general anaesthetic.  Not all instances are appropriate for regional anaesthetic and not all places are able to offer the service.  Your surgeon will guide you as to which means of anaesthetic you will be offered.

For a general anaesthetic, a small needle is placed in your hand. The anaesthetic is injected via the needle and you will be sleeping within a few seconds.

 

Carotid endarterectomy is a procedure which unblocks a carotid artery. The carotid arteries are the primary blood vessels that provide blood to the head and neck.

Carotid endarterectomies are performed when one or both carotid vessels have narrowed due to a build-up of fat (plaque). This is referred to as carotid artery disease or sometimes carotid artery stenosis.

What can happen?

If a narrowed carotid artery is not treated, the blood flow to the head may change, resulting in health risks:

  • stroke – a severe medical condition that can bring about brain damage or death, or
  • transient ischaemic attack (TIA) – often known as a "mini-stroke", a TIA is like a stroke but the symptoms are temporary and usually go within 24 hours

Each year about 150,000 people suffer from a stroke in the country. Around 45,000 of these are brought about by narrowing of the carotid arteries. About 15,000 patients have a bad narrowing that demands an operation.

Carotid endarterectomy can greatly reduce the chance of a stroke in people with very narrowed carotid arteries. In people who have formerly had a stroke or a TIA, their chance of having another stroke or TIA within the following three years is dropped by a third after surgery.