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Here is a piece that appeared recently on Vascular Screening UK in the Daily Express:

Ultrasound Way to Reduce Heart Trouble

We’ve all heard the story – someone who looks slim, exercises regularly and eats healthily suddenly suffers a heart attack or stroke.

These people are often seen as exceptions as it is usually the unhealthy and the overweight who are most at risk from heart disease.


SCREEN VIEW: Robin Turner undergoes the ultrasound

Yet according to Professor Andrew Nicolaides, a cardiac specialist at the Vascular Non-invasive Diagnostic Centre in London, these “healthy” cases are not so rare.

“Studies show that there are certain risk factors that statistically do make heart disease more likely,” he says. “Doctors use these warning signs – whether a patient smokes, if they have diabetes, if they are overweight, have a history of heart disease, high cholesterol or high blood pressure – to identify those people they believe are at the highest risk of suffering cardiovascular disease in the next five to 10 years.

“Around 50 per cent of all heart attacks occur among the 15 per cent minority of the population that make up this high risk group. That means around half of all heart attacks occur in people who are not considered to be at a high risk according to the conventional risk factors. To put it another way, conventional methods alone are only 50 per cent effective at identifying people at risk.”

Research has shown that if heart disease is detected early, preventative treatment can halve the chance of a heart attack or stroke.

Clearly we need a much better method of detecting whether someone really is at risk of cardiovascular disease. Now Professor Nicolaides believes he has found just such a test.

At his clinic in central London, the professor’s team uses a high definition ultrasound scanner – a slightly more sophisticated version of the same device used to look at babies in the womb. It looks in detail at four of the largest arteries in the human body – the two carotid arteries on either side of the neck, that carry blood to the head and brain and the two femoral arteries on either side of the groin that carry blood to the legs and feet.

We look at these arteries because they are large and it is easier to investigate the artery walls,” says Dr Maura Griffin, an ultrasound specialist at the clinic. “It would be great to be able to look at the arteries in the heart itself but that requires a much more invasive form of scanning.”

Dr Griffin searches for any thickenings in the artery walls that show they are hardening. The ultrasound equipment is even able to detect whether the movement of blood through the arteries is being disrupted by plaque. If a significant amount of plaque is building up in these main arteries there is a very good chance that they will be affecting smaller arteries too.

It is a blockage in the arteries that supply blood to the heart that can cause a heart attack while a similar blockage in the arteries supplying blood to the brain can cause a stroke.

Although the scanning technology has been around for several years, it is only in recent years that studies have found just how effective it can be in calculating a patient’s risk of heart disease.

By combining the scan results with conventional risk factors Professor Nicolaides believes that, among men over 40 and women over 50 and in younger people with a strong family history of heart disease, he can correctly identify up to 80 per cent of patients at real risk of a heart attack or stroke in the next five to 10 years.

At the moment his scan and follow-up advice is only available from his private clinic at a cost of £300 per patient. If it were more widely available on the NHS as part of a nationwide screening programme, who knows how many lives it might save?

For more information on Professor Nicolaides’s vascular screening centre call 0207 323 9477 or visit www.vascularscreening.co.uk

Alasdair Reisner, 31, works in construction and lives in Surbiton in south-west London with his wife Mernie and their one-year-old son Harry

I ALWAYS knew there was a strong history of heart disease in my family that went back several generations, so I’ve often thought that heart disease might be in my genes.

What’s more, although my lifestyle is not too bad now I certainly didn’t take particularly good care of myself in my 20s. I didn’t exercise often enough, I probably drank a little too much and I didn’t eat particularly healthily either.

This combination of an unhealthy lifestyle and a family history of heart disease was beginning to make me wonder about my health in the future.

I was a little nervous about the opportunity to see for myself just what state my arteries were in.

The scan is straightforward. I’d imagined it would look at my heart but it actually examined the arteries on both sides of my neck and at the top of my legs. The ultrasound operator did a great job of explaining what was going on and reassured me that my arteries were fine, telling me that I’ve got “lovely veins”, which wasn’t something I ever expected to hear.

Best of all, I was actually able to see on the monitor just how healthy my arteries are. I could see the blood flowing through them and it was particularly reassuring to see that they were free of plaque.

I am delighted with the results because the worry that was at the back of my mind isn’t there any more. Of course, it doesn’t mean I can be complacent about my lifestyle.

I’m still quite young and it is recommended that I have another scan in 10 years or so to check that nothing has developed. It was definitely worth having the scan to set my mind at ease.

Robin Turner, 59, is a sales director and lives in Paddock Wood, Kent, with his wife Linda

I’m not really the sort of person you would expect to suffer from heart disease. I eat a healthy diet and go for a five-mile run twice a week. I do smoke at the weekend but not heavily and I rarely feel ill, dizzy or out of breath. There isn’t a strong history of heart disease in my family.

A few weeks ago I had a routine test at the doctors and he told me I had high cholesterol although my levels of HDL or “good cholesterol” were showing I was healthy. I was offered statins to try to reduce my cholesterol levels but I didn’t want to take them unless I absolutely had to.

When I realised that this test would give me a much clearer indication of what was going on in my actual arteries I decided to give it a go.

The results were quite clear. I could see for myself there were bumps in all four of the main arteries I had scanned.

That didn’t mean there were going to be any immediate problems but I was told I could suffer from problems within the next 10 years or so unless

I took action.

Professor Nicolaides recommended a statin called Crestor (or rosuvastatin) and he also said I should take an aspirin once a day to reduce the risk of my arteries clogging up.

I was shocked because although I had been given the warning about the high cholesterol I was still convinced I was healthy. Now I’ve seen the arteries for myself I will definitely take the advice, I’m just grateful that I’ve been able to discover the danger I was in before it got too late.

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March 2nd 2009
Tags: - Preventative Health Scanning, List of All Scans

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