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Carotid endarterectomy (CEA) is performed to prevent embolic stroke in patients with atheromatous disease at the carotid bifurcation. There is now substantial evidence to support early operation in symptomatic patients, ideally within 2 weeks of the last neurological symptoms. Thus, the anaesthetist may be faced with a high risk patient in whom there has been limited time for preoperative preparation. The operation may be performed under local or general anaesthesia. The advantages and disadvantages of both are explored in this review. Carotid shunting may offer a degree of cerebral protection, but carries its own risks and has not been proved to reduce morbidity and mortality. The use of carotid shunts is based on clinical judgement, awake neurological monitoring, and the use of monitors of cerebral perfusion. There is no ideal monitor of cerebral perfusion in the patient receiving general anaesthesia. Both the intraoperative and postoperative periods may be witness to dramatic haemodynamic changes that may compromise the cerebral or myocardial circulations. In particular, postoperative hypotension may compromise both myocardial and cerebral perfusion, and severe hypertension can cause cerebral hyperperfusion. There is as yet limited evidence to guide the management of these problems. In summary, CEA can yield significant benefit, but those with the most to gain from the operation also present the greatest challenge to the anaesthetist.