By William L. Driscoll
Even a mild form of high blood pressure—where the first number is from 130-139, or the second number is from 80-89—is a strong predictor of artery clogging, as reported in a scientific journal article in the American Journal of Hypertension. At blood pressure readings above those levels, researchers found that the prevalence and burden of artery clogging increased.
Overall, the contribution of high blood pressure to artery clogging has been “intensively studied” and is “well understood,” says a scientific journal article published in the journal Cells.
So a doctor could tell someone with elevated blood pressure that their arteries may be getting clogged, that artery clogging increases their risk of a heart attack or stroke, and that there are good options to screen for artery clogging, and to treat it, if found.
Unfortunately, many doctors don’t say that. So if you or someone you know has been diagnosed with high blood pressure, here’s what you should know.
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Screening can tell anyone whether they have artery clogging that has reached a concerning level. If so, they may then find a preventive cardiologist, who can help them slow or stop the progression of artery clogging through aggressive lowering of LDL (bad) cholesterol.
Ultrasound screening of the carotid arteries can indicate the extent of artery clogging throughout the body. The ultrasound test is just like the one used for pregnant women, but is performed on the neck, where the carotid arteries are, instead of the belly.
Regrettably, carotid ultrasound screening is not yet routinely available to patients at their doctor’s office. Some doctors and traditional cardiologists may be willing to order a carotid ultrasound test on the basis of a high blood pressure reading, particularly if that reading is fairly high.
Alternatively, people over 50 can obtain such screening from the company Life Line Screening, which offers a rapid form of carotid artery ultrasound screening.
The results of such rapid testing may be helpful in securing an appointment with a preventive cardiologist. Even if the results indicate carotid artery blockage of less than 50%, a preventive cardiologist may offer an appointment, because artery clogging can advance rapidly, and preventive cardiologists aim to prevent further artery clogging. During an appointment, a preventive cardiologist might decide to order a “gold standard” carotid artery screening test, which provides more information but takes a bit longer, and therefore costs more.
In the future, carotid artery ultrasound tests may be available from your regular doctor, as part of a routine physical, using a low-cost handheld ultrasound device made by GE, Philips, or Butterfly Network.