Having Carotid Endarterectomy

Endarterectomy is the removal of plaque from the carotid artery through an incision in the neck. This surgery has a low risk of stroke or complication (1% to 3%). It typically involves a quick recovery with little pain. You may be asleep under general anesthesia during surgery, or awake with local anesthesia to control pain. This will be discussed with you before surgery.

Three-quarter view of head and neck showing incision on neck for endarterectomy.

Carotid artery showing incision with instrument removing plaque and shunt rerouting blood flow.

A skin incision is made over the carotid artery.

A shunt helps keep blood flowing during the procedure.

How the endarterectomy is done

  1. Make the skin incision. The surgeon makes an incision in the skin over the carotid artery.

  2. Open the artery. The surgeon places clamps on the artery above and below the blockage. This temporarily stops blood flow. The brain receives blood from the carotid artery on the other side of your neck. The surgeon then makes an incision in the artery itself.

  3. Place shunt. A shunt may be used to preserve blood flow to the brain during the procedure. After the shunt is in place, the clamps are removed from the internal carotid artery. In some cases a shunt is not needed because the brain is receiving enough blood through other arteries (from the carotid artery on the other side of your neck). 

  4. Remove plaque. The surgeon loosens plaque from the artery wall. The plaque is then removed, often in a single piece. The surgeon inspects the artery to confirm that all of the plaque has been removed.

  5. Close the incision. The surgeon closes the incision using either sutures or a patch. The clamps are then removed. Next, the skin incision is sutured closed. A tube or drain may be put in place to keep fluids from collecting around the area.

The surgery usually takes around 2 hours, but may be longer depending on the anesthetic and your situation.