BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) - A new study concludes opening an artery in the neck can significantly reduce the risk of having a stroke.
A doctor puts a stethoscope on your neck to hear the flow of blood to your brain. If the artery becomes narrow, that could lead to a stroke. Take a look at a normal neck artery, called the carotid. Notice how smooth its lining looks - nothing is interfering with the flow. But here's one that has become narrow because of atherosclerosis. You can see how narrow the channel is, right where the artery branches.
Dr. Nick Hopkins explained, "It happens to be a place where fatty plaques develop quite commonly. As the plaque in your neck enlarges, gets to a certain point, it is potentially going to cause a stroke."
Dr. Hopkins is chief of neurosurgery at Millard Fillmore Gates Circle. Surgery is able to remove plaques before they cause strokes. The artery is opened, and the plaque inside is gently separated from the wall. After it's removed, the artery is closed. A recent study looked at more than three thousand patients with narrow arteries but no symptoms. Those who had surgery to remove the plaque had about half the risk of stroke as those who were just treated with medications.
"Medications just don't work as well as removing the plaque itself - you know that just makes common sense," said Dr. Hopkins.
Dr. Hopkins led a study that showed placing a stent can work just as well as surgery. The group at Gates Circle has the largest experience in the world at using both stents and surgery. They're equally effective, but some patients are more suited to surgery and some to stents - depending on what the vessels look like.
If your arteries can become narrow without causing any problems, a doctor can tell because the blood flow makes a little noise, and that can be heard with a stethoscope. Then you have some more studies to see whether it's narrow enough to need treatment.
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