Thousands of people have avoided strokes by opting for preemptive surgery that removes a coating of hard plaque from the inside of a vital neck artery. A new study finds that this surgery has long-term benefits and seems to protect against stroke even if done years after a patient first shows signs of such a blockage.
Symptoms of a blockage in the Y-shape carotid artery, which supplies the head with blood, include transient episodes of tingling or numbness in arms or legs, slurred speech, and a blackout of vision in one eye. Researchers see these as warning signs of stroke because the artery can close off or plaque can rupture and form clots that lodge in the brain. Symptoms of carotid blockages often go away within minutes or hours but the stroke risk remains.
Surgeons began clearing away such blockages, a procedure called carotid endarterectomy, in 1954. But organized trials to gauge its effectiveness didn't begin until the 1970s. The surgery remains controversial bec