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Narrowing Carotid Arteries May Lead To Worse Memory And Thinking Skills

Last updated Sept. 18, 2015

Approved by: Maulik P. Purohit MD MPH

Patrick J. Lynch

The common carotid arteries supply the head and neck with oxygenated blood, which is essential for a healthy, functioning brain and body. If the brain begins to lose oxygen, it starts to malfunction and can eventually die.


A new study presented at the American Academy of Neurology’s 66th Annual Meeting and published in the journal Neurology, investigated the associations between high blood pressure, smoking and diabetes with the development of memory and cognitive issues later in life.

The results of the study “underscore the importance of assessing the status of memory and thinking in people with carotid artery narrowing,” said Dr. Brajesh K. Lal, of the Baltimore VA Medical Center and University of Maryland School of Medicine, in a press release. 

The common carotid arteries supply the head and neck with oxygenated blood, which is essential for a healthy, functioning brain and body. If the brain begins to lose oxygen, it starts to malfunction and can eventually die. The arteries become blocked, restricting blood flow, when fatty deposits, or plaques, build up and reduce blood flow causing stroke or transient ischemic attack.

Dr. Lal says, “To date, the focus of diagnosis and management of carotid artery blockages has been prevention of stroke since that was the only harm that these blockages were thought to cause to patients.”

The researchers evaluated 67 patients with asymptomatic carotid stenosis (ACS), and 60 people with risk factors for ACS - such as diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and coronary artery disease - but without the condition. The ACS patients had a 50 percent artery reduction due to blockage.

Both groups were tested for information processing speed, learning, memory, decision-making, language and overall thinking abilities.

The patients who had ACS performed considerably worse on the memory and cognitive tests - mainly on the tests for processing speed and language. The study, however, found no difference in the language abilities of the two groups.

“If these findings are confirmed in larger studies, they hold significant implications for new treatment targets and open the door for more questions such as: Should these patients be treated more aggressively with medications, cognitive rehabilitation, or even surgery to open up the artery,” Lal said in the release.

Reviewed and Approved by a member of the DoveMed Editorial Board
First uploaded: April 25, 2014
Last updated: Sept. 18, 2015