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Richard Wacht

Vision problems could be a sign of carotid artery disease

Are vision problems a warning sign for carotid artery disease?

Seeking help for vision problems might have saved Hogansville, Ga., resident Richard Wacht from suffering a stroke. Wacht noticed changing colors and misting in his vision, so he scheduled an appointment with his ophthalmologist.

The ophthalmologist saw a reflection of altered blood supply to the retina, which can be a sign that blood is not flowing properly to the brain. He told Wacht to see his primary care physician.

Recognizing the symptoms, his primary care doctor rushed him to a carotid artery ultrasound and discovered Wacht has a 98 percent blockage in his right carotid artery, putting him at serious risk for a stroke or transient ischemic attack (TIA), which has the same symptoms as a stroke, but lasts only minutes at a time. A TIA results from a sudden, temporary loss of blood flow to part of the brain.

“An estimated 30 percent of all strokes are caused by carotid artery disease,” says Patrick Battey, M.D., a Piedmont vascular surgeon. “Frequently the first manifestation of carotid artery disease is a stroke.”

The carotid arteries are located on both sides of the neck and are responsible for delivering oxygenated blood to the brain. Atherosclerosis, a build-up of plaque on the artery lining, can cause the arteries to narrow or become blocked.

Carotid artery disease risk factors

Because the disease is often symptomless until a serious event occurs, physicians screen based on a patient’s risk factors and if he or she has signs of atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis risk factors include:

If a physician determines a patient is at risk for carotid artery disease based on these factors, a carotid ultrasound is a good screening tool to detect disease, says Dr. Battey.

Carotid artery disease treatment

Wacht’s primary care physician referred him to Dr. Battey, who performed a carotid endarterectomy to remove the blockage.

During this procedure, an incision is made on the side of the neck where the affected artery is located. The surgeon then opens the artery and removes the plaque that has built up on the inside of the artery wall. The artery is then sutured closed, restoring normal blood flow to the brain. The procedure can be done while the patient is awake under local anesthesia or asleep under general anesthesia.

“Carotid intervention has been around for a long time,” says Dr. Battey. “It has a great track record in reducing the chance of stroke with a low risk of complications. It has been performed since the 1960s and has held up to the test of time.”

After the surgery, Wacht remained in the hospital one night for observation and returned home the next day.

“I’ve felt fine, with no symptoms, ever since,” says Wacht.

To learn more about carotid artery disease, visit Piedmont Heart Institute

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