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Check out these newly released Special Health Reports from Harvard Medical School
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You can't buy good health but you can buy good health information. Check out these newly released Special Health Reports from Harvard Medical School:

Surgery trumps angioplasty for clearing blocked arteries to the brain, from the Harvard Heart Letter

The brain depends on the carotid arteries in the neck to deliver a steady flow of oxygen-rich blood. If one or both of these arteries becomes clogged with cholesterol-filled plaque, choking off blood flow, a procedure to reopen the vessel may be needed. But which one?

The traditional approach is carotid endarterectomy, an operation to open the artery and clean it out. Doctors and medical device companies have hoped that a less invasive approach called angioplasty—opening the blocked artery with a balloon and then propping it open with a stent—would rival endarterectomy. But that hasn't come to pass, reports the June issue of the Harvard Heart Letter.

The main goal of the two procedures is to prevent a stroke, the most feared complication of a narrowed carotid artery. Both do this quite well, with similar recovery times. Yet surgery often turns out to be better than angioplasty, especially for older people, because it has lower rates of post-procedure stroke and death. Although the latest head-to-head trial comparing carotid angioplasty and surgery showed that differences between the two are getting smaller and that in expert hands angioplasty can be a viable alternative, surgery still offers a small extra margin of safety.

If you have a narrowed carotid artery and it isn’t too severe, your best bet is medical therapy, notes the Harvard Heart Letter. This might include taking a medication like aspirin to discourage clotting and a statin to stabilize the plaque. If the narrowing is severe or causes symptoms, surgery has a small edge over angioplasty for most people. Most important, though, is the doctor’s experience with the procedure he or she is performing.

Read the full-length article: "Clearing clogged arteries in the neck"

Also in this issue of the Harvard Heart Letter

  • Persistence pays off in cardiac rehabilitation
  • Better ways to get your produce
  • Coronary artery vasospasm
  • Clearing clogged arteries in the neck
  • Heart Beat: Your choice for dieting
  • Heart Beat: Going steady
  • Heart Beat: Some leniency on heart rate control in atrial fibrillation
  • Heart Beat: Get help with a huge medical bill
  • Ask the doctor: Do I really need carotid artery surgery?
  • Ask the doctor: Can I fly again after having a DVT?
  • Ask the doctor: Is earwax connected to heart disease?
  • Ask the doctor: Is CholestOff safe to take for someone who has had breast cancer?
  • Ask the doctor: Is my LDL too low?
  • Finding a cardiac rehabilitation program
  • June 2010 references and further reading

More Harvard Health News »

About Harvard Health Publications

Harvard Health Publications publishes four monthly newsletters--Harvard Health Letter, Harvard Women's Health Watch, Harvard Men's Health Watch, and Harvard Heart Letter--as well as more than 50 special health reports and books drawing on the expertise of the 8,000 faculty physicians at Harvard Medical School and its world-famous affiliated hospitals.