Heart Beat: Geography influences treatment of clogged carotid arteries

Published: October, 2010

Like all arteries, the carotid arteries that run up either side of the neck, bringing blood to the brain, can become clogged with cholesterol-filled plaque. Treating this common problem should be somewhat consistent across the country. It isn't. In the crazy quilt of American medicine, rates of artery-clearing procedures are all over the map.

Endarterectomy is the surgical procedure performed to clean out a clogged or narrowed carotid artery. Angioplasty plus a stent can open the vessel from the inside without surgery. Both procedures help prevent stroke and premature death in people whose narrowed carotids cause symptoms; the benefits are much more modest in those without symptoms. About one in 10 people who has carotid endarterectomy or angioplasty probably doesn't need the procedure.

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