A new technique has been discovered that easily and accurately detects if one’s aorta is stiff. The procedure was developed by Gary Pierce, an assistant professor in the Department of Health and Human Physiology at the University of Iowa.
I’ve written a slew of articles about heart disease and stroke risk factors, but I never knew that one way to detect an increased risk of heart attack and stroke was that of measuring aortic stiffness.
What is the aorta?
It’s the largest blood vessel in the human body, something many kids learn in their ninth grade health class. This “great” vessel originates in the heart and delivers blood throughout the body, but not before branching off into several smaller vessels.
New Procedure Detects Stiffness in the Aorta
An instrument, a transducer, is placed on one’s finger or over their brachial artery of the arm. The readout is combined with the patient’s age and body mass index (BMI). This lets a doctor know if the aorta has become stiff.
The traditional procedure involves recording a pulse in the neck’s carotid artery and the upper leg’s femoral artery at its location in the groin. But it’s easier to record the pulse from one’s finger or arm, and nearly as accurate, says the report, which appears in the American Journal of Physiology Heart and Circulatory Physiology (Sept. 2013).
Furthermore, the transducer method works better on obese people because their femoral pulse can be difficult to get. This finger or arm test for aortic stiffness “can be easily obtained in the clinic during routine exams similar to blood pressure tests,” notes Pierce.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that heart disease kills 600,000 Americans every year. Few people think about aortic health when striving for tip-top heart health.
If this great vessel is stiff, the heart must work harder. This increased strain is NOT the same as the harder work the heart must do when you exercise. In fact, lack of exercise can lead to stiffening of the aorta. When the heart is strained from a stiff aorta, the risk of high blood pressure, cardiac events and stroke goes up.
“Finding simple noninvasive methods to measure aortic pulse wave velocity in the clinic,” says Pierce, “may help physicians to better inform middle-aged and older adults about their level of cardiovascular risk.”
Pierce points out that regular exercise guards the aorta from stiffening in middle-aged and older people.