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Older smokers urged to get ultrasound scans

Older male smokers and ex-smokers should get at least one ultrasound scan to make sure they do not have a developing aneurysm near the heart, a team of U.S. experts advised.
/ Source: Reuters

Older male smokers and ex-smokers should get at least one ultrasound scan to make sure they do not have a developing aneurysm near the heart, a team of U.S. experts advised on Monday.

Nearly 70 percent of men over 65 are or have been smokers and would benefit from such a routine check, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force said.

“This is an important recommendation because evidence now exists that screening high-risk men for abdominal aortic aneurysms can reduce deaths from aneurysm,” said task force chairman Dr. Ned Calonge, state epidemiologist for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

“One of the most important things men and women can do for their health is to never start smoking and to quit if they do. People who have a family history and might be at risk for abdominal aortic aneurysm should discuss their concerns with their physicians.”

Women, non-smokers at lower risk
Women and non-smokers are at a much lower risk of an aortic aneurysm, a weakening and then rupture of the main artery leading out of the heart. Most people with ruptured aneurysms die before they can get help.

Writing in the Feb. 1 issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine, the task force — an advisory and review group made up of private sector prevention and primary care experts — said new evidence has shown that screening and surgery to repair large aneurysms before they rupture can save lives.

At least 9,000 people a year die from them.

Another study, released on Sunday, defined the physical traits that put young children at risk of aneurysms, according to a team at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.

These children often have  wide-set eyes, a cleft palate or split uvula — the tag of tissue that hangs down in the back of the throat — and a torturous arrangement of the body’s blood vessels, they said.

“The severity of the physical traits can vary, but because the aorta ruptures so much sooner than one would expect, patients need to be identified and treated as early as possible and much sooner than is standard medical practice for other causes of aortic aneurysms,” said Dr. Harry Dietz, who led the study.

Writing in the journal Nature Genetics, Dietz and colleagues described the case of an 18-month-old girl who had been brought to the clinic because of a heart murmur.

“When I walked by a photo, the girl’s mother sent for the 2003 holidays, it struck me that the girl’s eyes were just slightly wide-set,” Dietz said.

“We had just figured out the new syndrome, so I asked the girl’s local doctor to look in her mouth and tell me if she had a split uvula. The answer was yes.”

They scheduled surgery, found an aneurysm, repaired it and the girl is healthy now, Dietz said.