Controversies in neurology: asymptomatic carotid stenosis—intervention or just stick to medical therapy. The argument for carotid endarterectomy
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Patients with a significant carotid stenosis are at an increased risk of suffering from a potentially fatal or disabling stroke. The current management strategies available to a patient with an asymptomatic carotid stenosis are either medical therapy alone, or in combination with either carotid endarterectomy, or carotid angioplasty and stenting. Medical therapy alone can reduce the incidence of stroke in general, but whether there is any reduction in stroke attributable to a significant carotid stenosis is less clear. Carotid endarterectomy, on the other hand, has been shown to reduce the incidence of ipsilateral ischaemic stroke in both symptomatic and asymptomatic patients, with the benefits extending into the long-term. Carotid angioplasty and stenting is a newer technique with the benefit of being minimally invasive. The results of trials comparing the technique to endarterectomy have had conflicting results, and the results of large multi-centre trials are awaited. Currently the safest strategy for a patient with a significant asymptomatic carotid stenosis consists of optimal medical therapy with carotid endarterectomy for those less than 75 years of age, who are suitable for surgery.