The Healthy Heart
Carotid Screening for Vascular Disease
Vascular Disease is the leading cause of death in Canada. It will affect approximately 80% of Canadians, killing half of them. Vascular disease, including structural change in the arteries, is a systemic disorder. That means that once it is found in any part of your body it is assumed to affect arteries in other locations as well.
A painless, non-invasive test known as carotid ultrasound is available to assist in early detection of vascular disease. The test involves scanning the carotid arteries on either side of the neck and takes approximately twenty minutes to complete. The development of newer compact machines, about the size of a lap top computer, has enabled a degree of portability for testing that is welcome.
The advantage of screening for vascular disease is finding the disease before symptoms, such as a heart attack or stroke, appear. The carotid arteries are scanned to assess the thickness of the arterial wall itself as well as for the presence of plaque - the accumulation of cholesterol within the arterial wall. It is the potential rupture of this plaque that places someone in danger of having a sudden vascular event, including heart attack, stroke and death.
If abnormalities are detected during the carotid screening procedure your doctor may initiate vascular therapy and recommend diet, lifestyle and exercise changes that will help to stabilize vascular disease. The discovery of abnormalities in the carotid arteries may also prompt a search for disease elsewhere – in particular various types of stress testing to assess your heart.
Presently there is no structured screening programme for vascular disease in Ontario. The VHN believes that this should be a priority for the province in the future. In the meantime, practice varies from place to place and you will need to discuss with your family physician the right approach for you. In general, we recommend that males 45 and over and females 50 and over benefit from carotid screening. If the test is normal, a repeat in the 3 to 5 years may be considered depending upon other risk factors.
Vascular labs throughout the province provide high quality diagnostic services.
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