Clogs in neck arteries a risk to Hispanics
By Amy Norton
NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Older Hispanic adults with even small blockages in the neck arteries face a heightened risk of suffering or dying from a heart attack or stroke, researchers reported Wednesday.
In a study of nearly 2,200 older adults, researchers found that Hispanic adults with moderate plaque buildup in their carotid arteries were about four times more likely than those with no carotid plaque to suffer a heart attack or stroke, or die of cardiovascular causes over the next seven years.
In contrast, those risks were not significantly higher among white and black adults with similar plaque buildup. The findings were published online by the journal Neurology.
The carotid arteries supply blood to the brain and, like the arteries of the heart, they are susceptible to atherosclerosis -- an accumulation of fatty deposits, or plaques, that hardens and narrows the arteries.
The new findings show that even relatively small plaques in the carotid arteries may serve as a marker of widespread atherosclerosis in the body. In fact, carotid plaque thickness was an even stronger predictor of heart attack than it was of stroke, lead researcher Dr. Tatjana Rundek, of the University of Miami, told Reuters Health.
According to Rundek, studies should now look at whether non-invasive measurements of carotid plaque thickness can help identify people at high risk of heart attack, stroke or other cardiovascular problems.
This could be especially helpful for Hispanic men and women, the current findings suggest.
The study included 2,189 adults with an average age of 68, more than half of whom were Latino. Ultrasound scans showed that 58 percent overall had plaque in their carotid arteries.
Hispanic participants were actually less likely to have plaque buildup than their white and black counterparts, but when they did, it appeared to be more problematic. Hispanic men and women with a maximum plaque thickness of 1.9 millimeters or more were at greater risk of having a "vascular event" than those with lesser or no plaque buildup.
Vascular events included fatal and non-fatal heart attacks and strokes, as well as deaths from heart failure, heart-rhythm disturbances and other cardiovascular causes.
This study cannot explain why carotid plaques carried the highest risks for Hispanics, Rundek said.
It's possible, she speculated, that these plaques progress more quickly in Hispanic people, or that their plaques are more vulnerable to rupture -- which, in the carotid arteries could trigger a stroke, and in the coronary arteries could cause a heart attack.
"More studies are needed to address this question," Rundek said.
SOURCE: Neurology, online March 19, 2008.