Did you know that 50% of patients who suffer heart attacks have normal EKG’s. normal cholesterol values and no symptoms prior to having a heart attack? The reason why that should scare you is because other than these basic screening tools very few physicians are ordering advanced tests to predict the likelihood of having a heart attack or stroke. The purpose of this blog is to educate you about what other options you have to screen for cardiovascular disease. Specifically the carotid ultrasound to look for thickness of the wall (intima media thickness) and for early plaque build up.
The carotid arteries are the major arteries supplying blood to the head and neck. Each of us has two of them on either side of the anterior portion of the neck (see photo). With advanced technology, we can evaluate the thickness of the arterial wall using ultrasound in the office and it takes only 10 minutes. It also can detect early plaque build up which is information we can not get or predict by looking at standard blood tests. Studies show that there is a 70-95% correlation between plaque in the carotid arteries and plaque in the coronary arteries which supply blood to your heart. It is blockage in the coronary arteries that causes heart attacks.
The problem is that most insurance companies make patients see multiple specialist in order to get approval to pay for this test. The out of pocket cost is typically $295-$495. Some physicians, like myself, who specialize in preventive medicine purchase and own these machines so that we can screen patients without having to get approval from the insurance companies. In my practice the fee this test is included in my initial consultation as an added bonus. Since I started screening patients, I have already picked up 4 who have significant plaque build up and thickness in their arteries and have them on a program to reduce the plaque build up. In EVERY case, seeing the plaque was enough to motivate patients to make significant changes in their nutrition and exercise habits. One patient stopped smoking that day!
So what can you do to reduce the thickness of the carotid artery wall and reduce plaque build up. The first thing we do is optimize hormone levels which has shown to not only reduce the thickness of the arterial wall, but reduce the plaque by improving lipids, decreasing inflammation and reducing blood pressure. Secondly, all my patients with plaque build up take 2 grams of Kyolic aged garlic/day, 4 grams of fish oils daily and also niacin to improve their cholesterol. I also teach them how to transition to a Paleo style nutrition plan (if you are not familiar google search paleo nutrition) Once they start eliminating processed foods and eating more of the foods God put on this earth we start to see significant changes in their cardiovascular health.
To read more about the carotid ultrasound test, please visit www.heartsmartimt.com which is the leader in carotid ultrasound technology and is the company I use to evaluate and read my ultrasound scans.