Just like with all other arteries in the body, the carotid arteries may develop certain medical conditions that cause them to become weak, painful and unable to perform properly. If you are feeling pain along the side of your neck or face, it may be linked to the carotid arteries. It is important to speak with your doctor if this pain becomes severe or lasts for several days, as it could indicate a serious medical problem.
The carotid arteries are two large blood vessels that supply the front of the brain with oxygenated blood. The blood is delivered to the portion of the brain where thinking, personality, speech, sensory and motor functions are controlled. The left carotid artery stems from the aortic arch, while the right carotid artery stems from the brachiocephalic artery. You can feel the pulse of the carotid arteries on either side of your neck, just below the jaw line.
Carotid Artery Disease
Carotid artery disease occurs when the diameter of the carotid arteries is narrowed because of a buildup of fatty plaque and cholesterol along the inside walls of the arteries. When this narrowing occurs, it becomes difficult for blood to move through the carotid arteries. As a result, the brain is not receiving enough blood, putting you at risk for a stroke. Carotid artery disease is often the result of a poor diet, sedentary lifestyle, hypertension, history of smoking, diabetes and a family history of carotid artery disease.
Just like with any other artery, the carotid arteries can develop arteriosclerosis. This condition is a chronic disease characterized by unusual thickening and hardening of the carotid artery walls. These abnormal changes to the arteries cause them to lose their elasticity. As a result, the carotid arteries lose their ability to sufficiently transport oxygenated blood to the brain. Although this condition is similar to carotid artery disease, it cannot be traced to any specific lifestyle or genetic causes.
Carotidynia occurs when the carotid arteries become dilated or distended on one or both sides. Carotidynia can be categorized into three types: classic, migrainous and arteriosclerotic. All three categories of the condition involve pain or tenderness in either one or both carotid arteries; the pain is often felt in the neck, face, ear or head. The carotid sinus may also be enlarged. Pain associated with carotidynia is aggravated by chewing and swallowing, and occurs most often during cold weather. Unfortunately, little is known about the cause of carotidynia and it is often misdiagnosed as tonsillitis or other neck conditions.
A variety of treatments are available for these carotid artery conditions; the proper treatment depends on the actual condition and the rate at which it has progressed. If the patient is suffering from carotid artery disease or arteriosclerosis, the physician will likely forgo surgery if the blockage is less than 50 percent. In this case, anticoagulant medications will likely be prescribed, along with changes to the patient’s lifestyle. However, if the blockage is greater than 50 percent, surgery is usually necessary to remove the plaque or place a stent inside the artery. Carotidynia is often treated with anti-inflammatory medications, which help to relax the carotid arteries, relieving the pain.