Carotid artery screening can save lives, so USPSTF, please revisit your analysis

By William L. Driscoll

Carotid artery screening that can identify early-stage artery-clogging is becoming far less expensive, thanks to new handheld ultrasound devices used for screening.

In a review of carotid artery screening, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force made a compelling argument in favor of such screening, in a recommendation early this year.

The task force said that plaque in the carotid arteries, known to doctors as atherosclerosis, “is a manifestation of systemic atherosclerotic disease, so identifying this condition may potentially lead to changes in medical management to prevent future cardiovascular events,” such as heart attacks and strokes.

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Regrettably, although the USPSTF saw that carotid artery screening could save lives, by helping prevent heart attacks and strokes, it advised against widespread carotid artery screening. That’s because preventing deaths through changes in medical management, such as statin therapy, was “outside the scope” of its review, the USPSTF said.

It’s time for the USPSTF to take another look, as many in the medical community trust its recommendations. Costs for ultrasound carotid artery screening have come down, thanks to new handheld ultrasound devices from GE, Philips and Butterfly Network. Meanwhile, more patients with early signs of artery-clogging are turning to preventive cardiologists to help them aggressively lower their LDL (bad) cholesterol to stop further artery-clogging, or even reverse it, and so prevent heart attacks and strokes.

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force is an independent, volunteer panel of 16 national experts in disease prevention and evidence-based medicine. Task force members are appointed to four-year terms by the Director of the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The current USPSTF recommendation is titled “Asymptomatic Carotid Artery Stenosis: Screening.”