What is Carotid Endarterectomy?

Updated:Feb 8,2013

Carotid endarterectomy is surgery to remove fatty deposits (plaque) that are narrowing the arteries in your neck. These are called the carotid arteries.  They supply blood and oxygen to your brain. If plaque and other fatty materials block an artery, it slows or blocks  the blood flow, and you could have a stroke. 

Why do I need it?
Your doctor has given you one or more tests that show there is blockage. You may have had transient ischemic attacks (TIAs). A TIA is caused by a blood clot that lasts only a few minutes and usually causes no permanent injury. TIAs can serve as warning signs of a major stroke. About one-third of these are followed by a stroke in the following year. This operation can stop TIAs from happening and can reduce your risk for stroke.

How is it done?

  • You’ll get medicine to make you sleep and prevent pain.
  • The doctor makes a small cut in your neck at the spot where your artery is blocked or narrowed.
  • The doctor opens up the narrowed artery and removes the plaque.
  • The doctor will make the artery as smooth and clean as possible.
  • The artery and the cut will be closed up.
  • The surgery usually takes about 1or 2 hours.

What about afterwards?

  • You’ll wake up in the hospital and may feel confused at first.
  • Your neck will hurt for a couple of days. 
  • It may be hard to swallow at first.
  • You’ll probably go home in a day or two.
  • You shouldn’t lift anything heavy for about three weeks.
  • You’ll probably be able to return to work within a month.
  • You should make healthy lifestyle changes to help reduce the chance of new  plaque deposits and to lower your risk of stroke.

How can I reduce my risk of stroke?

  • Have your blood pressure checked often and manage high blood pressure.
  • Don’t smoke and avoid second-hand smoke.
  • Lose any extra weight.
  • Get regular physical activity.
  • Have your blood sugar tested, and control diabetes if you have it.
  • Eat less salt, saturated fat and trans fat.
  • Limit alcohol to no more than two drinks a day for men, one drink a day for women.

How can I learn more?

  1. Talk to your doctor, nurse or other healthcare professionals. If you have heart disease or have had a stroke, members of your family also may be at higher risk. It’s very important for them to make changes now to lower their risk.
  2. Call 1-800-AHA-USA1 (1-800-242-8721), or visit heart.org to learn more about heart disease.
  3. For information on stroke, call 1-888-4-STROKE (1-888-478-7653) or visit us online at StrokeAssociation.org.

We have many other fact sheets and educational booklets to help you make healthier choices to reduce your risk, manage disease or care for a loved one.  Visit heart.org/answersbyheart to learn more.

Knowledge is power, so Learn and Live!

Do you have questions or comments for your doctor or nurse?

Take a few minutes to write your own questions for the next time you see your healthcare provider. For example:

Could I have a stroke during surgery?         

Will I need surgery again?      

©2012, American Heart Association                          

Multi-language Fact Sheet Topics

Heart-related Conditions
What is Angina?
What is an Arrhythmia?
What Is Atrial Fibrillation?
How Can I Lower High Cholesterol?
What Do My Cholesterol Levels Mean?
What Are High Blood Cholesterol and Triglycerides?
What Is High Blood Pressure?
How Can I Reduce High Blood Pressure?
High Blood Pressure and Stroke
What Is Diabetes and How Can I Manage It?
How Can I Live With Heart Failure?
What Is Heart Failure?
What Is a Heart Attack?
How Will I Recover From My Heart Attack?
What Are the Warning Signs of Heart Attack?
What Are Heart Disease and Stroke?
What is Metabolic Syndrome?
What is Peripheral Vascular Disease?

Stroke, Recovery and Caregiving
Hemorrhagic Stroke
Ischemic Stroke
What Are the Warning Signs of Stroke?
Lifestyle Changes to Prevent Stroke
Stroke Diagnosis
Changes Caused by Stroke
Emotional Changes After Stroke
Feeling Tired After a Stroke
Stroke and Rehabilitation
Stroke Family Caregivers
How Should I Care for Myself as a Caregiver?

Treatment, Tests and Procedures
What is Cholesterol-Lowering Medicine?
What is High Blood Pressure Medicine?
What Are Anticoagulants and Antiplatelet Agents?
What Is an Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillator?
What Is a Pacemaker?
What Is Coronary Angioplasty?
What is a Stent?
What is Coronary Bypass Surgery?
What is a Coronary Angiogram?
How Can I Recover From Heart Surgery?
What is Carotid Endarterectomy?

Healthy Lifestyle and Risk Reduction
How Can I Manage My Weight?
How Can Physical Activity Become a Way of Life?
Why Should I Be Physically Active?
How Do I Follow a Healthy Diet?
Why Should I Limit Sodium?
How Do I Read "Nutrition Facts" Labels?
How Can I Quit Smoking?
How Can I Manage Stress?
How Can I Make My Lifestyle Healthier?
How Can I Monitor My Cholesterol, Blood Pressure and Weight?