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Surgery to Widen Neck Arteries Cuts 10-Year Stroke Risk: Study

By Steven Reinberg
HealthDay Reporter

THURSDAY, Sept. 23 (HealthDay News) -- For people whose carotid arteries have become narrowed, restricting blood flow to the brain, having a surgical procedure to widen them reduces the risk of stroke over a 10-year period, British researchers report.

The carotid artery -- one on either side of the neck -- supplies blood carrying oxygen to the head, so a procedure to widen it helps restore blood flow to the brain. However, the operation, called a carotid endarterectomy, has about a 3 percent risk of causing an immediate stroke, the researchers cautioned.

For some elderly patients, this risk may outweigh any long-term benefit. But older, healthy patients will likely benefit from the procedure, the study authors noted.

However, Dr. Larry B. Goldstein, professor of neurology and director of the Duke Stroke Center at Duke University Medical Center, who was not involved in the study, suggested that the benefits might be smaller than they appeared in the study.

"Recent studies suggest that the rate of stroke in patients with [narrowed carotid arteries without symptoms] is lower than the rates found in this trial," he said. Although the study found the rate of stroke in patients without a carotid endarterectomy to be 1.8 percent a year over a 10-year period, Goldstein noted that "the rates are thought to be about 1 percent a year, but may be as low as around 0.5 percent a year."

The lower rates of stroke, he said, "are thought to be due to advances in medical treatment such as blood pressure control, antiplatelet drugs and more widespread use of statins."

The report is published in the Sept. 25 issue of The Lancet.

In the Asymptomatic Carotid Surgery Trial, a research team led by Dr. Alison Halliday of the John Radcliffe Hospital, the University of Oxford, randomly assigned 3,120 patients with narrowed carotid arteries to surgery or to no surgery un

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