Carotid endarterectomy is a surgical procedure done to remove plaque blockage from a carotid artery. The two carotid arteries lie on either side of the neck and provide blood to the brain. In patients with carotid artery disease, these important blood vessels become clogged with a waxy, fatty substance called plaque. Blood cannot flow easily, and small clots can become trapped in the narrowed artery, causing a stroke. In an endarterectomy, the artery is opened and the blockage is pulled or scraped away.
There are less invasive treatments for carotid artery disease, such as angioplasty, but endarterectomy is a reliable, safe procedure that has been used for more than fifty years. During the procedure, the surgeon identifies the blockage and opens the artery with a small incision. The artery may be clamped briefly or re-routed to prevent excessive bleeding. Once inside the artery, the thick buildup can often be removed all in one piece. The surgeon may also form a graft using a piece of blood vessel from elsewhere in the patient’s body, and use the graft to repair the artery where the blockage was removed. The artery is stitched closed, and the surgery is done. Blood can now flow freely to the brain.