Carotid Arteries

Carotid Arteries

carotid artery
Human carotid arteries, computer illustration.

SEBASTIAN KAULITZKI / Science Photo Library / Getty Images

Carotid Arteries

Arteries are vessels that carry blood away from the heart. The carotid arteries are blood vessels that supply blood to the head, neck and brain. One carotid artery is positioned on each side of the neck. The right common carotid artery branches from the brachiocephalic artery and extends up the right side of the neck. The left common carotid artery branches from the aorta and extends up the left side of the neck. Each carotid artery branches into internal and external vessels near the top of the thyroid. Both of the common carotid arteries can be used to measure a person's pulse. For those in shock, this can be a key measure as other peripheral arteries in the body may not have a detectable pulse.

Key Takeaways

  • Carotid arteries are located on each side of the neck and are the blood vessels that supply oxygenated blood to the head, neck and brain.
  • There are two main branches of the carotid arteries. The internal carotid artery supplies blood to both the brain and eyes while the external carotid artery supplies the throat, face, mouth, and similar structures.
  • Carotid artery stenosis, known more commonly as carotid artery disease, is a result of the narrowing or blocking of the arteries that leads to a decrease in blood flow to the brain. This narrowing or blocking is one of the main causes of stroke.

Similar to other arteries, the carotid arteries have three tissue layers that include the intima, the media, and the adventitia. The intima is the innermost layer and is composed of smooth tissue known as endothelium. The media is the middle layer and is muscular. This muscular layer helps arteries to withstand the high pressure blood flow from the heart. The adventitia is the outermost layer that connects arteries to tissues.

Function of the Carotid Arteries

The carotid arteries supply oxygenated and nutrient filled blood to the head and neck regions of the body.

Carotid Arteries: Branches

Both the right and left common carotid arteries branch into internal and external arteries:

  • Internal Carotid Artery - Supplies oxygenated blood to the brain and eyes.
  • External Carotid Artery - Supplies oxygenated blood to the throat, neck glands, tongue, face, mouth, ear, scalp and dura mater of the meninges.

Carotid Artery Disease

carotid ultrasound
Carotid Ultrasound.

Westend61 / Getty Images

Carotid artery disease, also called carotid artery stenosis, is a condition in which carotid arteries become narrowed or blocked leading to a decrease in blood flow to the brain. The arteries may become clogged with cholesterol deposits which can break and cause blood clots. The blood clots and deposits can become trapped in smaller blood vessels in the brain, decreasing blood supply to the area. When an area of the brain is deprived of blood, it results in a stroke. Carotid artery blockage is one of the main causes of stroke.

Carotid artery disease can potentially be prevented by controlling the risk factors associated with the disease. A number of factors such as diet, weight, smoking, and the overall level of physical activity are important risk factors. Doctors recommend that patients eat a healthy diet that includes lots of fruits and vegetables and maintain a healthy weight. It is also very important to be physically active and to exercise moderately for a minimum of 150 minutes per week. Smoking is also very deleterious to health so cessation is the best option. By controlling these risk factors, individuals can help lessen the chance that they will develop carotid artery disease.

A carotid ultrasound is a procedure that can help to diagnose carotid artery disease. Such a procedure uses sound waves to produce detailed images of the carotid arteries. These images can show whether or not one or both of the arteries has a blockage or is narrowed. This diagnostic procedure allows for intervention before an individual suffers a stroke.

Carotid artery disease can be both symptomatic or asymptomatic. If you think that a person is having issues associated with their carotid arteries, it is best to call for medical help.


  • Beckerman, James. “Carotid Artery (Human Anatomy): Picture, Definition, Conditions, & More.” WebMD, WebMD, 17 May 2019,
  • “Carotid Artery Disease.” National Heart Lung and Blood Institute, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services,
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Bailey, Regina. "Carotid Arteries." ThoughtCo, Aug. 9, 2021, Bailey, Regina. (2021, August 9). Carotid Arteries. Retrieved from Bailey, Regina. "Carotid Arteries." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 7, 2023).