Fall 2011 - Whoosh! How Sound Helps Prevent Strokes
Whoosh! That sound may be telling your doctor that you have carotid artery disease. The carotid arteries carry oxygenrich blood to your brain, face, scalp and neck. If they narrow or become blocked because of a buildup of plaque (a substance made up of fat, cholesterol and calcium, among other things, found in the blood), your doctor may hear a whooshing sound called a bruit when he or she listens to your carotid arteries through a stethoscope. Abruitis the sound the blood makes when it is flowing, or attempting to fl ow past an obstacle such as plaque buildup. When its path is clear, the blood flows quietly and evenly.
Because it can block blood fl ow to the brain, carotid artery disease is the leading cause of stroke. Approximately 50 percent of strokes result from carotid artery disease.
Carotid artery disease can be elusive. People often do not realize they have it until they suffer a stroke.
In many cases, we can diagnose carotid artery disease and treat it before a stroke occurs. If your doctor suspects you have carotid artery disease, the next step is typically a carotid ultrasound.
Carotid ultrasound testing is completely painless. There are two large arteries in your neck. The high-frequency sound used in the test actually creates images of the insides of these arteries so a cardiologist or vascular surgeon can see their structure and any plaque buildup.
The standard carotid ultrasound and carotid doppler ultrasound tests are preformed simultaneously. The standard ultrasound provides information about the arteries’ structure, the Doppler focuses on blood flow. Normal blood flow through the carotid arteries may indicate an obstruction somewhere else in the body.
Treatment for carotid artery disease varies and depends on how far the disease has progressed. Medications such as blood thinners are often prescribed to prevent clotting and stroke. Surgical procedures, including carotid endarterectomy and carotid angioplasty with stenting, are common treatments for those who have advanced disease.
Carotid endarterectomy is a very successful procedure that cardiologists typically use for patients whose arteries are at least 75 percent blocked. Certain circumstances also indicate that angioplasty and stenting is the right route to take. Either way, standard and Doppler ultrasounds help physicians make the right decision for each individual patient.
Has your doctor listened to your carotid arteries lately? If not, schedule an appointment with your doctor today.