Carotid endarterectomy is surgery to
plaque buildup in the
carotid arteries. During a carotid
A small incision is made in the neck just below
the level of the jaw. The narrowed carotid artery is exposed.
blood flow through the narrowed area may be temporarily rerouted (shunted).
Rerouting is done by placing a tube in the vessel above and below the
narrowing. Blood flows around the narrowed area during the
The artery is opened and the plaque is carefully removed,
often in one piece.
A vein from the leg may be sewn (grafted) on
the carotid artery to widen or repair the vessel.
The shunt is
removed, and the artery and skin incisions are closed.
For more information about making the decision to have
Thrombolysis, also known as thrombolytic therapy, is a treatment to dissolve dangerous clots in blood vessels, improve blood flow, and prevent damage to tissues and organs. Thrombolysis may involve the injection of clot-busting drugs through an intravenous (IV) line or through a long catheter that delivers drugs directly to the site of the blockage. It also may involve the use of a long catheter with a mechanical device attached to the tip that either removes the clot or physically breaks it up.
The surgery often takes about an hour.
Recuperation includes spending a short time in the recovery room and may
include about 24 hours in the intensive care unit to watch for
The hospital stay usually is 1 to 3 days. And
normal activities can be resumed within a week as long as the activities are
not physically demanding. There may be some aching in the neck for up to 2
weeks. It is important not to turn your head too often or too quickly during
Why It Is Done
Your doctor may suggest that you have this surgery if:
Plaque buildup, which may redevelop as a late complication
between 5 months and 13 years after surgery.
What To Think About
Carefully weigh the benefits and
risks of surgery, and compare them with the benefits and risks of medicine
therapy. The success of medicine therapy will depend on how much narrowing
(stenosis) is present in the arteries and the choice of medicine. Risks of
surgery depend on your age, your overall health, the skill and experience of
the surgeon, and the experience of the medical center where the surgery is
Tests such as carotid ultrasound, carotid arteriography, CT
angiography, or magnetic resonance angiography (MRA) are needed before surgery
to evaluate the amount of plaque buildup in the carotid arteries and the flow
of blood through the narrowed area. (For more information, see the Exams and
Tests section of the topic Stroke.) The blood vessels beyond the hardened area
are also evaluated. If those vessels are severely damaged, surgery may not be
Carotid endarterectomy can be done several months
after a stroke or TIA. But people benefit most from the
surgery if it is done within 2 weeks of the stroke or TIA. Delaying surgery longer than 2
weeks increases the risk for stroke, because people are more likely to have a
stroke in the first few days and weeks after a first stroke or a TIA.
The likelihood of complications
from carotid endarterectomy varies, depending on the skill and experience of
the surgeon. The American Heart Association Stroke Council recommends that
surgery be done by a surgeon who has complications in less than 6% of the
endarterectomy surgeries that he or she performs and that the hospital rate of
complications be just as low.2
The benefits of surgery may be temporary if disease or causes are not also treated. Using long-term aspirin treatment,
getting regular exercise, lowering cholesterol levels, eating a low-fat diet,
and quitting smoking are important aspects of postsurgery treatment.
Biller J, et al. (1998). Guidelines for carotid
endarterectomy: A statement for healthcare professionals from a special writing
group of the Stroke Council of the American Heart Association. Circulation, 97(5): 501-509.
Furie KL, et al. (2011). Guidelines for the prevention of stroke in patients with stroke or transient ischemic attack: A guideline for healthcare professionals from the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association. Stroke. Published online October 21, 2010 (doi: 10.1161./STR.0b013e3181f7d043).
Primary Medical Reviewer
E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer
Richard D. Zorowitz, MD - Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation
January 7, 2011
WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise
January 07, 2011
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