Ultrasound Screening for Heart Disease

Ultrasound of heart
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Ultrasound imaging technology has long enhanced the abilities of doctors to screen and diagnose conditions in many parts of the body, particularly during pregnancy.

But in recent years, Ultrasound has become an instrumental tool in screening for heart disease in asymptomatic patients.

How Is It Performed?

Using a wand-like device called a transducer placed on the patient, ultrasound testing (also called sonography) uses high-frequency sound waves to transmit images of organs, blood vessels and other anatomy to look for abnormalities.

What Ultrasounds Uncover

With heart disease, which in some form affects about 80 million Americans, these images can potentially alert physicians to plaques or growing blockages in the carotid arteries of the neck or dangerous bulges known as aneurysms in the abdominal aortic artery.

Research shows that ultrasounds used for these purposes can spot hidden heart disease in patients who have at least two risk factors for the condition, but no prior symptoms. This can help doctors better predict a patient's risk of suffering a heart attack or other cardiac event and pre-emptively prescribe aspirin or another cholesterol-lowering therapy. Ultrasound screening for abdominal aneurysms, for example, can lower the risk of dying in men aged 65 to 74 by more than 50%.

Is It Safer?

Unlike other cardiac imaging tools, such as CT scans, the use of ultrasound is safer, because it does not use radiation. Therefore, ultrasound testing does not present a long-term health risk for cancer, as with some of the other tests.

It is also relatively inexpensive, and noninvasive.

However, insurance may not typically cover ultrasound as a screening device for heart disease in otherwise healthy patients. Some doctors are able to justify the procedure to insurance companies if a patient has symptoms that point to an existing medical condition.


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