Atherosclerosis: the diagnosis

Several tools can diagnose atherosclerosis. In general, the diagnosis is made following the occurrence of a serious health problem (stroke, infarction ...), because there are unfortunately no or few warning signs.

Nevertheless, in the case of a problem with the heart, it is possible that a person complains of pain or a lack of oxygenation during a physical effort. A stress test (walking or cycling) is then performed at the doctor to assess the capabilities of the person, before proceeding to the diagnosis.

Angiography is commonly used. This is an X-ray imaging technique that can demonstrate stenosis, that is to say a narrowing of the artery, characteristic of the presence of an atherosclerotic plaque.

However, it is possible that an atheromatous plaque is not identified by this technique, because the stenosis is not systematic. It happens, in fact, that the plate is pushed outward.

On the contrary, MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) makes it possible to visualize the entire artery in three dimensions. All plates, even the smallest are visible. MRI is used when the angiogram has given nothing and the presence of a plaque is nevertheless suspected.

Ultrasound of carotid arteries can also detect plaques. It can be performed during a check-up for a person who is overweight or has too much cholesterol while atherosclerotic plaque is not necessarily sought.

A more recent technique also allows diagnosis: the ultrasound-intravascular technique. This consists of inserting a fiber inside the artery, at the end of which is a small camera. Ultrasound is sent and is reflected by the tissues. Thus, a non-homogeneous wall is easily highlighted and reveals the presence of a plate. Nevertheless, this technique is currently only used in some health centers.

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