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Carotid Artery Dissection

According to medical experts, carotid artery dissection (CAD) affects 3 in 100,000 people and can happen at any age.


The human body has two carotid arteries, and they are a vital part of the body’s blood flow system. Running from the base of the neck all the way to the brain, they deliver oxygen-rich blood that the brain requires to function properly. The first portion of each carotid artery is the called the common carotid artery which has two branches: internal and external. The internal branch carries blood to the front part of the brain, and the external branch carries blood to the face and scalp.    


A dissection is a tear of the inner layer of the wall of an artery that inhibits blood flow. Tears can be caused by a neck injury or an underlying health condition that weakens the arteries. In some cases, doctors are unable to identify a reason. Once formed, the tear allows blood to get in between the layers of the wall and separate them. This causes the artery wall to bulge, which can slow or stop blood flow through. Tears can also trigger the body's clotting system by blocking blood flow at the site of the tear. Pieces of the clot can also break off and block blood flow in smaller branches of the artery. Blocked or decreased blood flow can lead to a mini-stroke, stroke or even death.

Symptoms include, but are not limited to, headache or neck pain, a droopy eyelid, a ringing or whooshing sound in the ear, numbness or weakness, blindness, double vision, trouble speaking or swallowing, or imbalance. A CAD should always be treated as a medical emergency. Diagnosis is most commonly made by MRA / MRI of the brain and neck, carotid doppler and ultrasound and cranial computed tomography angiography.

This animation depicts a timeline of a left internal carotid artery dissection, showing typical anatomy, the initial injury, tear in the artery wall, formation of blood clot, breakage of clot fragment traveling to ophthalmic artery causing reduced blood supply to the eye, also causing multiple transient episodes.

Great Book For CAD Survivors & Caregivers

Carotid and vertebral artery dissections are responsible for one-quarter of strokes in young adults. Despite this fact, there is very little awareness and understanding of these vascular injuries by the public, and even by healthcare providers.


This book answers the common questions that patients with carotid and vertebral artery dissections have with easy-to-understand explanations. It also includes are stories from patients who have persevered after their dissections. Their journeys personalize dissection and stroke in young adults and illustrate the existence of the lingering effects dissections can have on patients for many years.


Jodi A. Dodds, MD, a vascular neurologist at Duke University, and Amanda P. Anderson, MS, CCC-SLP, a speech-language pathologist and a survivor of a severe carotid artery dissection, have created an important and needed resource for patients and their families as they navigate through the aftermath of this life-changing event.

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