MONDAY, May 8, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- Ultrasound imaging to detect plaque buildup (atherosclerosis) in the carotid artery of the neck may help doctors predict heart attack and other cardiac events in adults considered at low-risk for heart disease.
That's the conclusion of a study presented Monday at the American Heart Association's seventh Scientific Forum on Quality of Care and Outcomes Research in Cardiovascular Disease and Stroke, in Washington, D.C.
"A significant proportion of people who have heart attacks do not have traditional heart disease risk factors," study lead author Dr. Kwame O. Akosah, associate professor of medicine at the University of Wisconsin, said in a prepared statement.
"In this study, we looked at whether using carotid ultrasound -- a simple, noninvasive, relatively cheap test that is available in many doctors' offices -- might help identify which patients are at risk for cardiac events," Akosah said.
He noted that atherosclerosis is systemic -- if there's plaque buildup in the carotid artery, it may also be present in other important arteries, such as the coronary and leg arteries.
The study included 246 people (average ages 55 for men and 65 for women) considered at low risk for heart disease. Ultrasound revealed that 141 of them had atherosclerosis in the carotid artery. All the patients were monitored for 33 months after the ultrasound test.
"The people who had an abnormal test result for non-coronary atherosclerosis were nearly three times more likely than those who had normal test results to have severe coronary atherosclerosis, which was diagnosed by a coronary angiogram," Akosah said.
During the 33 months of follow-up, 10 people suffered a heart attack, stroke or died. Of those, nine had non-coronary atherosclerosis.
The U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute has more about atherosclerosis.