By J. Douglas Overbeck, M.D.
Is your heart healthy? You’ve not experienced shortness of breath. Nor have you felt any back, abdominal or chest pains. You feel good after low to moderate exercise. You have all the outward signs of a healthy heart.
But don’t let appearances fool you. Plaque could be building up in areas like the carotid arterial wall, and you won’t even know it; that is, unless you undergo ultrasound testing of the major arteries.
Carotid ultrasound imaging is a non-invasive procedure that exposes your major arteries, including the two carotid arteries that supply oxygen-rich blood to the brain, to high-frequency sound waves to produce pictures of the inside of your blood vessels. Because ultrasound images are captured in real-time, they can show the structure and movement of the vessels, as well as blood flowing through them. Through this test, doctors can measure the thickness of the arterial wall, measure the velocity of blood flow and look for flow disturbances. The extent of narrowing or stenosis is measured using a standardized grading system.
With the ability to conduct ultrasound testing on major arteries, we are better able to detect heart disease before it becomes symptomatic, so ultrasound imaging is a great tool for being proactive about your health.
Wait a minute. You had an EKG during your routine physical two months ago, and your results were normal. You should be a-okay. No need for further tests. Right? Maybe not.
An EKG, or electrocardiogram is nothing more than a reflection of surface electrical activity emitted by the heart. If the activity level changes, then it could indicate that something is wrong. The problem with relying on an EKG is that plaque build-up in the arteries has no effect on this test. Your heart may appear normal on an EKG, whereas a carotid ultrasound test could show opposite results.
Then why bother with an EKG to begin with? This is typically the very first cardiac test given. Think of it as the first line of defense. If you go to the ER with chest pain, then an EKG could show changes in electrical activity that indicate a heart attack.
In order to be proactive instead of reactive, it’s worth taking that extra step at your next exam to schedule a carotid ultrasound in order to review blood flow, narrowing of the vessels or other potential complications. While there is not miracle cure, there are effective treatments to stabilize and regress plaque buildup.
Treatments include simple medications such as aspirin and cholesterol-lowering statins that protect against stroke. Patients with far advanced blockages often require surgery or stent procedures. The goal is to catch plaque in the earliest stages so that effective treatment can be implemented before complications or costly surgical procedures are needed.
Tuscan Cardiovascular Center offers carotid ultrasound imaging as well as provides personal, one-on-one guidance for a heart healthy lifestyle. To learn more, call (972) 253-2505.