An individual with carotid occlusive disease may have no symptoms at all until he or she experiences a transient ischemic attack (TIA) or a full-blown stroke. But there are warning signs and risk factors that indicate someone may have or be developing carotid occlusive disease:
A primary care physician may detect abnormal blood flow in the neck that indicates the possibility of carotid stenosis — a vigilant physician will be especially mindful of the risk factors above when listening to a patient’s carotid blood flow. This turbulent sound, called a “bruit,” may be heard through a stethoscope during a routine examination. If the physician hears a bruit, the patient is usually referred for ultrasound imaging of the carotid arteries.
If carotid occlusive disease is not detected during a routine exam, it may reveal itself with a neurological episode called a transient ischemic attack, or TIA, often referred to as a "mini-stroke." Symptoms of a TIA may include:
These symptoms are usually short-lived, resolving themselves within a few hours. They should not be ignored, however, as they are often an indicator of advancing carotid stenosis and are a major risk factor for a future stroke.
Symptoms of a full-blown stroke are similar to those of a TIA, but are more severe and longer in duration (not resolving within 24 hours). A stroke is not always caused by carotid occlusive disease, but often is.
Find out more about the Stroke Program at the Weill Cornell Brain and Spine Center.
Reviewed by Philip E. Stieg, PhD, MD
Last Reviewed/Updated: July 2023