New tests possible for certain patients

Those of us who are a little concerned about the state of our cardio-vascular system should be encouraged by the results of a new U.S. study. The study of more than 4,000 people showed that thickening of the carotid artery walls in the neck is a better predictor of heart attack and stroke in elderly people than either high cholesterol or high blood pressure.

Reported in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine, the study involved ultrasound tests on the carotid arteries in people over 65. Test subjects had no history of heart disease or stroke-related illness. According to the study’s lead researcher, the data shows that the simple ultrasound test, which detects damage to the blood vessels before the patient has symptoms, is the best predictor of future heart attack and stroke.

While researchers applauded the potential of ultrasound to prevent heart attacks and strokes, some doctors warn that ultrasounds probably should not be given to everyone. Cholesterol and blood pressure tests are cheaper, and indicate to doctors what they should specifically treat in a patient. Of course, obesity, lack of exercise and smoking are other major risk factors fowhich treatment is clear. Ultrasound tests should be especially helpful for doctors treating patients with a single risk factor, since they can help determine how “aggressively” that risk factor should be treated.