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Carotid plaque can be shrunk

Posted Oct 01 2008 8:26pm

Rose, a 64-year old woman, just had a 70% carotid blockage identified by a screening ultrasound. When the result was given to her doctor, he prescribed Lipitor and told Rose that an ultrasound would be required every year. She would need carotid surgery, an "endarterectomy", if the blockage worsened.

"Can't I reduce the amount of blockage I have?" asked Rose.

"No. Once you've got it, it doesn't get any better."

Is this true? Once you've got carotid plaque, you can only expect it to get worse and it can't be reduced?

This is absolutely not true. In fact, compared to coronary plaque, carotid plaque is easier to reduce!

Of course, the Track Your Plaque program is designed to help you control or reduce coronary plaque. But, in our experience, people who have both coronary and carotid plaque will show far greater and faster reduction of carotid plaque. Dramatic reductions are sometimes seen. I've personally seen 50-70% blockages reduced to <30% on many occasions.

The requirements to achieve reduction of carotid plaque are very similar to the approach we use to reduce coronary plaque. One difference is that hypertension may play a more important role with carotid plaque and needs to be reduced confidently to the normal range before carotid plaque is controlled.

I find it shocking that the attitude like the one provided by this physician continue to prevail. Unlike coronary plaque, which has a relatively small body of scientific literature documenting how it can be reduced, carotid plaque actually enjoys a substantial clinical literature. Part of the reason is that the carotids are more easily imaged using ultrasound. (Heart structures can be seen with ultrasound, but not the coronary arteries.)

Numerous agents have been shown to contribute to reduction of carotid plaque: statin drugs, niacin, fish oil, the anti-diabetic "TZD" drugs (Actos, Avandia), several anti-hypertensive drugs, vitamin E, pomegranate juice, and several others.

It outrages me to hear stories like this. Rose is not the only one.

Don't accept the flip dismissals or the over-enthusiastic referral for carotid procedures. Insist on a conversation about plaque regression.

Note: Although I am a vigorous advocate of atherosclerotic plaque regression, this does not mean that if you have a severe (70% blockage or greater), or if there are symptoms from your carotid disease, that you should engage in a program of reversal. You must always take the advice of your doctor if your safety is in question.

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