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Clogged Neck Artery May Warn Of Heart Attack As Well As Stroke

-- greater than 50 percent -- in the carotid arteries. Among the 54 patients who had both severe heart disease and impaired pumping power -- a major predictor of heart attack -- 46.3 percent also had severe atherosclerosis in the carotid arteries.

The study findings have practical applications because obstructions in the carotid artery can be viewed with ultrasound, a technique less invasive than those required for viewing the heart.

"Because ultrasound is noninvasive, it is a safe and valuable way to obtain information about the carotid blood vessels that may predict the presence of heart disease," Kallikazaros says.

Ultrasound may also be useful for identifying individuals who are at high risk of suffering a stroke following cardiac bypass surgery. If carotid artery obstruction is found, treatments such as endarterectomy as well as anticoagulants or blood-thinning drugs, can be given to reduce the risk of a stroke following the heart surgery, adds Kallikazoros.

Kallikazaros and his colleagues assigned patients to one of five groups categorizing the severity of the atherosclerosis in both their carotid and coronary arteries.

The carotid artery classifications were: 1) no sign of plaque; 2) 2 to 15 percent artery obstruction; 3) 16 to 49 percent artery obstruction; 4) 50 to 79 percent artery obstruction; and 5) 80 to 100 percent artery obstruction.

The coronary artery classifications were based on the number of blood vessels that had obstructions. Coronary heart disease was defined as greater than 50 percent obstruction in at least one major artery.

Study findings showed that 18 percent of the 225 patients with heart disease had 50 percent or more obstruction of their left or right carotid artery and 88 percent had some degree of obstruction in their heart arteries. Heart disease increased from 17 percent in people without obstructions in the carotid artery to 46 percent in those with obstructions of greater
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Contact: Carole Bullock
caroleb@heart.org
214-706-1279
American Heart Association
6-May-1999


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