Narrowing of neck artery without warning may signal memory and thinking decline

April 21, 2014

For the first time, researchers have demonstrated that narrowing of the carotid artery in the neck without any symptoms may be linked to problems in learning, memory, thinking and decision-making, compared to people with similar risk factors but no narrowing in the neck artery, according to a study released today that will be presented at the American Academy of Neurology's 66th Annual Meeting in Philadelphia, April 26 to May 3, 2014.

"To date, the focus of diagnosis and management of blockages has been prevention of stroke since that was the only harm that these blockages were thought to cause to patients," said Brajesh K. Lal, MD, with the VA Maryland Health Care System's Baltimore VA Medical Center and the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore. "These results underscore the importance of assessing the status of memory and thinking in people with carotid artery narrowing."

Narrowing of arteries occurs when plaques build up in the artery, and they can harm the brain by restricting proper blood flow or by showering little pieces of plaque into the brain.

The study involved 67 people with the condition, called (ACS), with a 50-percent reduction in the diameter of the artery and 60 people with vascular but without the condition. Risk factors included diabetes, high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol and . The participants underwent extensive testing for overall thinking abilities, and for specific aspects of thinking such as: processing speed, learning, memory, decision-making and language.

The study found that the ACS group performed significantly worse on the overall memory and thinking tests. On testing of specific aspects of thinking, they performed worse on tests for motor and processing speed, and learning and memory. Language scores did not differ between 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," said Lal. "I anticipate a large number of follow-up studies searching for causes and the best treatment option for this newly identified morbidity associated with carotid narrowing."

Explore further: Better diagnostics could reduce risky surgery for asymptomatic carotid stenosis

Related Stories

Recommended for you

New insights on how cocaine changes the brain

November 25, 2015

The burst of energy and hyperactivity that comes with a cocaine high is a rather accurate reflection of what's going on in the brain of its users, finds a study published November 25 in Cell Reports. Through experiments conducted ...

Can physical exercise enhance long-term memory?

November 25, 2015

Exercise can enhance the development of new brain cells in the adult brain, a process called adult neurogenesis. These newborn brain cells play an important role in learning and memory. A new study has determined that mice ...

Umbilical cells help eye's neurons connect

November 24, 2015

Cells isolated from human umbilical cord tissue have been shown to produce molecules that help retinal neurons from the eyes of rats grow, connect and survive, according to Duke University researchers working with Janssen ...

Brain connections predict how well you can pay attention

November 24, 2015

During a 1959 television appearance, Jack Kerouac was asked how long it took him to write his novel On The Road. His response – three weeks – amazed the interviewer and ignited an enduring myth that the book was composed ...

No cable spaghetti in the brain

November 24, 2015

Our brain is a mysterious machine. Billions of nerve cells are connected such that they store information as efficiently as books are stored in a well-organized library. To this date, many details remain unclear, for instance ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.