Carotid artery dissection occurs when there is a tear or separation in the layers of the carotid artery in your neck. There are two carotid arteries, one on each side of your neck. Dissection can occur spontaneously or after a neck injury. The condition can heal itself over time but may cause life-threatening complications, such as stroke or bleeding in the brain.
The carotid arteries are a pair of important blood vessels in your neck that supply blood to your brain. An arterial dissection is when a tear in the layers of an arterial wall allows blood to flow between the layers of the artery. This can happen in a variety of arteries in your body.
A carotid artery dissection is when there's a tear in the arterial wall in your carotid arteries. While there is a tear in the walls of the artery, your blood remains within your blood vessel and doesn’t result in bleeding outside of the blood vessel. But blood within the walls of your artery can compromise the flow of blood, leading to a slowing or complete blockage of blood flow to your brain.
Sometimes pain is the only sign of carotid artery dissection, but it also can lead to serious complications such as:
It’s crucial to get a timely diagnosis and treatment to prevent complications or death.
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There are four main arteries in your neck: two carotid arteries and two vertebral arteries. Collectively they’re called the cervical arteries. A cervical artery dissection is a separation or tear in the wall of any of these four arteries.
A carotid artery dissection is a tear specifically in one of the two carotid arteries. It’s a type of cervical artery dissection.
Carotid artery dissection can happen to anyone at any age, but it’s more common in people in their 40s or 50s.
This condition isn’t common, occurring in only 2 or 3 people per 100,000.
Risk factors include:
Carotid artery dissection symptoms vary widely, from no signs to sudden stroke. Signs may include:
Because symptoms vary so widely, carotid artery dissection can be difficult to diagnose.
For diagnosis, a healthcare provider may need the following:
Your healthcare provider will recommend treatment depending on several factors, such as:
Treatment may include:
If you have a condition associated with carotid artery dissection, it’s important to follow your healthcare provider's instructions. This can help you prevent dissection or detect it early.
A healthy lifestyle can help control your blood pressure and minimize the risk of carotid artery dissection. It’s important to:
The prognosis with carotid artery dissection varies widely, depending on its cause and severity. Some people don’t require treatment, but others experience serious, life-threatening complications.
A carotid artery dissection may heal itself over time. Your healthcare provider might monitor it to determine whether it gets worse and to detect any possible complications early.
A carotid artery dissection doesn’t usually recur (come back) after treatment. The recurrence rate within one year is from zero up to 10%.
You should seek medical attention for any signs of carotid artery dissection. This is particularly important if you have any of the associated conditions or if you’ve recently injured your neck.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
A carotid artery dissection is a tear or separation in the layers of the carotid artery in your neck. It can occur spontaneously or after a neck injury. Sometimes the condition can heal itself, but it also can cause life-threatening complications. If you have signs of dissection, seek medical attention.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 04/07/2022.
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