An Overview of Carotidynia

A Rare Pain Syndrome Affecting the Neck

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Carotidynia is a rare disorder of the carotid artery that causes pain in the face and neck area. Also known as Fay syndrome and TIPIC (transient perivascular inflammation of the carotid artery) syndrome, it has no known cause and is usually not serious.

Although carotidynia requires minimal treatment or none at all, it still needs to be checked out to ensure that the pain is not related to another more serious issue.

This article looks at the symptoms and causes of carotidynia and explains how this uncommon pain syndrome is diagnosed and treated.

What Is a Carotid Artery?

The carotid arteries are blood vessels that supply blood to your brain, face, and neck. You have two on each side of your neck—the left and right common carotid arteries—which branch off around mid-neck into the external and internal carotid arteries.

Symptoms of Carotidynia

Some people feel absolutely fine when an episode of carotidynia strikes. When that's not the case, symptoms of carotidynia can include:

  • Neck pain that is sudden, severe, unexplained, and throbbing
  • Neck pain and swelling that is unilateral (occurring on one side of the neck)
  • Pain and tenderness that radiates up the side of the face and head

More specifically, the neck pain and tenderness is located at the junction where the carotid artery divides into two branches.

There may also be swelling or fullness above the carotid artery. The carotid pulse (the pulse in the neck) may also be pronounced. Typically, there are no additional symptoms beyond that.

People who have had carotidynia don't usually experience it again.

When to See a Healthcare Provider

Any sudden and unexplained neck pain should be seen by a doctor right away. Other conditions can mimic the symptoms of carotidynia, including serious ones like giant cell arteritis (inflammation of the artery lining).

Causes of Carotidynia

The cause of carotidynia is unknown. It is also rare, affecting less than 3% of people who seek urgent treatment for neck pain.

The diagnosis of carotidynia is often considered controversial because it can be difficult to decide if the acute neck pain is purely vascular (related to blood vessels), muscular (related to muscles), neurogenic (related to nerves), or a combination of these.

With that said, much of the current evidence suggests that inflammation plays a central role in carotidynia. Inflammation, the body's natural response to threats such as infection or injury, is characterized by the swelling of tissues, pain, and heat.

Some studies suggest that the flow of blood from a larger vessel to two smaller ones places excessive stress on the junction, causing tissues to harden over time. If inflammation were to occur, the swelling of these hardened tissues could very well cause pain.

This is evidenced in part by the fact that carotidynia almost always affects adults over 40, rather than younger people. Females are also more affected than males, possibly because their internal carotid artery is far smaller in size.

While carotidynia can happen out of the blue, it is not uncommon for it to strike during a migraine attack or exertion headache (a headache caused by strenuous activity). Both can cause blood vessels to swell which, in turn, triggers the release of chemicals known as cytokines that instigate inflammation. More research on this is needed.

Diagnosis of Carotidynia

Carotidynia diagnosis

Verywell / Cindy Chung

There are no tests or procedures able to diagnose carotidynia. The diagnosis is made after all other causes have been ruled out. Medical professionals sometimes call this a "diagnosis of exclusion." Undergoing these tests is important as they can ensure that other, more serious conditions are not involved.

The diagnosis of carotidynia may involve:

Other Diagnoses That May Be Considered

Among the many conditions that healthcare providers need to rule out in their differential diagnosis of carotidynia are:

How Carotidynia is Treated

There are no specific treatments for carotidynia. People usually recover completely without any long-term problems. The pain will usually begin to resolve within a week but can take up to 14 days in some people.

Over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like Aleve (naproxen) and Advil (ibuprofen) can be helpful in relieving pain.

Drugs called calcium channel blockers used to reduce high blood pressure have also proven beneficial in people with longer-lasting episodes.

In some cases, oral steroid medications such as prednisone have been used when the underlying inflammation is persistent or extreme. These medications should not be taken for a long time due to the high risk of side effects.

When carotidynia occurs in people with migraines, standard migraine treatments can help.

Carotidynia Prognosis

Fortunately, carotidynia usually resolves on its own. There is no specific treatment, but symptoms can be managed with medication until they improve.


Carotidynia is a rare pain syndrome involving the carotid artery. Its cause isn't known. People with the condition have sudden pain on one side of the neck. The pain occurs over the carotid artery, but can also radiate to the face.

The diagnosis is made after ruling out other conditions. A physical exam, imaging tests, and blood tests can help a healthcare provider reach a diagnosis.

Carotidynia usually starts to improve within a week. There is no standard treatment for the syndrome, but symptoms can be managed with medications.

A Word From Verywell

Carotidynia is not considered to be a serious medical condition, but this doesn't mean you should ignore the signs and symptoms.

Any sudden head or neck pain should be considered worrisome, particularly if the cause is unknown, the symptoms persist, or you have repeated episodes. Such pain is not considered normal under any of these circumstances, even if the symptoms are mild to manageable.

See a healthcare provider, even if it just ends up being for peace of mind.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Does coronavirus cause carotidynia?

    COVID-19 is known to cause vascular inflammation, which studies suggest can trigger carotidynia.

  • Can carotidynia cause a stroke?

    There are a few case studies of individuals believed to have had a stroke related to carotidynia, but more research is needed.

9 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  5. Johns Hopkins Vasculitis Center. Giant cell arteritis.

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  7. Jud P, Kangler G, Gresenberger P, Porugaler RH, Brodmann M. Images of the month 3: transient perivascular inflammation of the carotid artery syndrome. Clin Med (Lond). 2021 Jul;21(4):e412–3. doi:10.7861/clinmed.2021-0349

  8. American Association of Neurological Surgeons. Neck pain.

  9. Yamaguchi Y, Hayakawa M, Kinoshita N, Yokota C, Ishihara T, Toyoda K. Embolic stroke due to carotidynia potentially associated with moving carotid artery caused by swallowing. Journal of Stroke and Cerebrovascular Diseases. 2018;27(3). doi:10.1016/j.jstrokecerebrovasdis.2017.10.008

Additional Reading

By Abby Norman
Abby Norman is a freelance science writer and medical editor. She is also the author of "Ask Me About My Uterus: A Quest to Make Doctors Believe in Women's Pain."