WEDNESDAY, Aug. 17 (HealthDay News) -- People who have narrowed carotid arteries in the neck and show no symptoms may be at risk for stroke and not know it, but a simple ultrasound test can identify the problem, a new study suggests.
This condition, known as asymptomatic carotid stenosis, is caused by plaque build-up in the arteries that carry blood from the heart to the brain. This can cause less blood to reach the brain and, in rare cases, may also trigger a stroke if plaque breaks off and becomes lodged in the small vessels in the brain.
"Only a small minority of patients with carotid stenosis will suffer a stroke," said lead researcher Dr. Raffi Topakian, from the Academic Teaching Hospital Wagner-Jauregg in Linz, Austria.
The problem is identifying the patients at the highest risk for stroke, he said. Most patients with carotid stenosis can be managed with medications such as cholesterol-lowering drugs, blood pressure-lowering drugs and blood thinners such as aspirin, he added.
But those at highest risk may need a surgical procedure called an endarterectomy, which clears the carotid arteries of plaque.
"We found with two ultrasound methods we could differentiate the patients who are at very low risk of suffering a stroke -- lower than 1 percent per year -- from patients at high risk of stroke -- higher than 8 percent per year," Topakian said.
The patients who are at high risk are candidates for surgery, he said. Endarterectomy is not recommended for most people with carotid stenosis since the problem can be managed with drugs and there are risks, including stroke, with the procedure, Topakian said.
Those who would benefit from the ultrasound test are people with known carotid stenosis who are fit for surgery, Topakian said. "If they are too sick or frail for surgery, it makes no sense to do the ultrasound," he said.
In addition, people at
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