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Neck sounds can detect blood blockages

Noise in artery could warn of heart risk
May 12, 2008 12:00:00 AM PDT
It turns out all you need is a stethoscope and a trained ear to find out if you have a higher than usual risk for a heart attack. A new study finds that listening closely to a certain sound in your neck can be quite telling.Listening to the neck is something many physicians routinely do, but what are doctors checking for? They're listening for a "whooshing" sound which indicates blood trying to get pass a blockage. It's called a carotid bruit.

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"We've known about sounds in the neck, carotid bruits for some time, and we've related those more to the presence of or the occurrence of stroke," said Dr. Ray Matthews, the USC Director of Interventional Cardiology.

But a new review of 22 previous studies, which included 17,000 patients, concludes those with carotid bruits were twice as likely to suffer a heart attack or die from heart problems.

Dr. Matthews says if you have plaque and artery hardening in your neck, you're likely to have it in the rest of the body.

"Your physician can detect it with a stethoscope by simply placing it on the neck and hearing a rushing sound which indicates a mild to moderate narrowing of the artery," said Dr. Matthews.

Dr. Matthews says if doctors can detect a carotid bruit early, the next goal will be to do everything possible to get a patient's blood pressure and cholesterol under control.

"The idea is to do everything we can to modify this risk of heart attack and death from cardiovascular causes with medications in a patient who wouldn't ordinarily receive it," said Dr. Matthews. "So it's a very low technology improvement in patient care which is good."

Even though doctors have long believed a carotid bruit can lead to a stroke, Dr. Matthews says the new findings show the presence of a bruit does very little to increase your risk of stroke.

 

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