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Using ultrasound to detect potential heart attacks and strokes before symptoms arise

A study of carried out in the USA, Canada and has revealed the potential of this technology for detecting plaques in peripheral arteries that can lead to and stroke before symptoms arise, in both developed and developing country settings, allowing preventive treatment in those affected. The study, published in Global Heart (the journal of the ), is by Dr Ram Bedi, Affiliate Assistant Professor, Department of Bioengineering, University of Washington, Seattle, WA, USA, and , Editor-in-Chief of Global Heart and Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York, USA, and colleagues.

Numerous research studies have shown that it is possible to assess subclinical atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease () using ultrasound imaging. Since more portable and lower cost ultrasound devices are now entering the market, along with increased automation and functionality, it may be possible in future to routinely examine people with ultrasound to establish any present before symptoms emerge, so that future disease can be prevented, for example using medication. In this study, was determined using ultrasound of both the carotid arteries (those in the neck) and the ileofemoral arteries (entering the top of the leg). The findings were conveniently summarised in an easy to understand index called the Fuster-Narula (FUN) Score.

Data were gathered from 4 cohorts, 2 Indian and 2 North American. In India, a medical camp setting was used, and screening with automated ultrasound imaging was conducted over 8 days in 941 relatively young (mean age 44 years, 34% female) asymptomatic volunteers recruited from the semiurban town of Sirsa (Haryana) and urban city of Jaipur (Rajasthan) in northern India. The cohort from Sirsa was specifically recruited because all participants had already undergone aggressive lifestyle changes (smoking cessation, no alcohol, vegetarian diet, physically active lifestyles, daily meditation), Radiology resident doctors who had no prior training in vascular ultrasound were trained on the spot to perform the ultrasound examinations.

To compare the imaging findings with traditional risk factors, 2 cohorts (481 persons) were recruited from primary care clinics in North America (one in Richmond, Texas, USA, the other in Toronto, Canada). As well as the same ultrasound examinations given in the Indian cohort, comprehensive ASCVD risk factor data was gathered from these participants, all of whom were self-referred asymptomatic individuals (mean age 60 years, 39% female). Data collected included cholesterol levels, blood pressure, glucose level, weight, height, smoking and family history. These people were attending clinics for routine health examinations in most cases. Effectiveness of established ASCVD prevention guidelines was then compared to results from direct imaging. Ultrasound was performed by trained experts at each centre.