Carotid bruits may reveal heart attack risk

By Tom Nordlie • Published: September 4th, 2008
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

For such a simple instrument, the doctor’s stethoscope reveals an amazing amount of information.

Now, it may provide a new way to predict heart attacks.

By listening to the carotid artery, located in the neck, doctors can detect abnormal sounds called carotid bruits [ka-rah-tid BREW-eez].

They’re caused by blood rushing past artery-clogging plaque deposits.

Doctors have known for years that carotid bruits can indicate heightened risk for stroke.

But a review article published recently in The Lancet offers evidence they’re associated with heart attacks.

Researchers examined twenty-two previously published studies, involving more than seventeen-thousand patients in total.

On average, the volunteers were sixty-five years old, and were tracked for four years.

Some of the studies included control subjects who didn’t have bruits.

The results showed heart attacks were twice as likely in people with bruits.

For an individual, a carotid bruit increases the risk of cardiac events three-point-seven percent each year it’s present.

The article did have limitations.

For example, many of the studies didn’t assess subjects for other health conditions that may have influenced the odds of heart attack.

Nonetheless, the researchers concluded that doctors should check for bruits in patients who might be at risk for coronary heart disease, because the test is fast and inexpensive.

So the next time you see the doc for a check-up, you might want to ask her to give a listen to your carotid.

That’s sound advice.

Because the sound of a bruit might be an alarm she really needs to hear.