BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force says a screening test for narrowing of the arteries in your neck won’t help most people prevent a stroke.
Screening tests are wonderful when they work the way we want. Someone who seems to be healthy discovers a threatening disease in its early stages, gets treated and recovers. But what if it doesn’t quite work that way?
Many people have atherosclerosis in the carotid arteries in the neck. If it gets worse, that problem might lead to a stroke, but it usually doesn’t cause any symptoms, ever. When symptoms do occur, doctors can find the blockage with an ultrasound scan or an MRI.
A website selling screenings encourages all people over 50 to get screened and to repeat it every year. But the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force reviewed data on outcomes of medical and surgical treatment and recommended that people who have not had neurologic symptoms should not be screened.
The screening adds almost no statistical benefit and the surgical treatments were sometimes associated with harmful complications. We have to emphasize that this recommendation only applies to non-symptomatic people – those who have never had a stroke or a transient episode of neurologic abnormality.
If you have a narrowing in your arteries, but no symptoms, you’re in greater danger from high blood pressure, smoking, high cholesterol, diabetes – the usual risk factors. Treating those can make the plaque smaller.
The screening doesn’t add useful information. However, if shown a picture of the narrow vessels in your neck, it might persuade you to take your medicine and do something about your risk factors.