Test could prevent cardiovascular disease

By Rachel McNeill - Anchor

HOUSTON - Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in Americans. But, one Houston doctor believes that with the right tools, nearly 80 percent of cardiovascular events could be prevented.

One of those tools is a simple and noninvasive test called the vascular age test or Carotid IMT. It could very well serve as a wake up call to many.

Helen Zebe, of Sugar Land, was admittedly nervous walking into the Methodist Debakey Heart and Vascular Center. She was there for the vascular age test which can tell her the relative age of her arteries.

Helen told Local 2, "I just wanted to make sure I was OK. I want to make sure I'm not going to have a heart attack. I want to make sure everything's flowing in the right direction."

Dr. Christie Ballantyne is Director of Methodist's Center of Cardiovascular Disease Prevention. He explained that by using ultrasound, the thickness of the carotid arteries can be measured.

Dr. Ballantyne told Local 2, "And when we do, that we can look at the thickness of the artery and also to see if there's any plaque."

Carotid age can be affected by risk factors such as family history of cardiovascular disease, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, smoking, obesity and inactivity.

Dr. Ballantyne said, "Sometimes the (tests) are also used to grab someone's attention and say, 'Listen, you might be 45 years old, but you've got the arteries of someone who's 60 and you really need to take care of this.'"

Helen is plagued by a family history of high cholesterol. In her early 30s, after the birth of her third son, doctors told her she was heading down a dangerous path.

She explained, "They told me my cholesterol was 400 and my triglycerides were 400."

Since then, she exercises, watches what she eats and takes cholesterol lowering medication. Her lifestyle changes are paying off.

Dr. Ballantyne told Helen, "Your (artery) thickness is the same for an average woman of age 51." Helen's real age is 65.

She laughed, "It's the youngest thing about me! It's really good. It's great! I'm really happy, really happy."

The test is noninvasive and there's no radiation.

Dr. Ballantyne said it's vital information that could help reverse cardiovascular disease.

He added, "It's really a shame because this is preventable."

The vascular age test costs about $200 and is often covered by insurance for those at higher risk of cardiovascular disease.

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