Not one to worry about his health, Michael Mathews never bothered with annual checkups or wellness screening—until he found out he was a walking time bomb.
A $60 test tipped him off to a potential problem with one of his carotid arteries, the blood vessels on the sides of the neck that deliver blood to the brain and head. Further testing showed he had developed a large buildup of plaque in his left artery.
"I felt fine," Mathews says. "I had no symptoms or medical issues related to the occlusion."
The vascular system—the arteries and veins that carry oxygen-rich blood throughout the body—doesn’t get the kind of attention extended to the heart. But when blood flow is restricted, the outcome can be as serious as a heart attack.
According to the American Vascular Association, vascular disease causes almost as much death and disability as heart disease—and more than any cancer. An estimated 20 to 30 million Americans are at risk for various vascular diseases, including stroke, peripheral arterial disease (PAD), carotid artery disease and aortic aneurysms. One of the most dangerous health issues related to vascular disease, stroke is the No. 4 cause of death in the United States. A stroke occurs when a blood vessel carrying oxygen and nutrients to the brain is either blocked by a clot or ruptures. Then a part of the brain cannot get oxygen, causing brain cells to die.
Michael had no idea he was dangerously close to having a stroke until a doctor treating him for an unrelated medical condition at the Medical University of South Carolina detected a possible restriction in his carotid artery and suggested he have it checked.
His internist sent him to Beaufort Memorial for a vascular screening, a series of three simple tests that check for blocked or narrowed arteries. Michael’s screening showed a restriction in his left carotid artery. More extensive testing revealed the artery was 80 percent blocked.
BMH vascular surgeon Chad Tober, MD, recommended immediate surgery to remove the plaque and restore blood flow. Michael had the surgery in August 2012. A few hours after the procedure, he was sitting up in his hospital bed having dinner and talking with his wife. He went home the following day. “The surgery went really well,” Michael says. “It wasn’t debilitating. I rested at home for a week and then went back to my normal routine. But if I had caught it earlier, I might have been able to avoid surgery or at least get it before it was so serious it was about to kill me.”
Like Michael, many people who have potentially threatening vascular disease are unaware of it. Beaufort Memorial offers a vascular screening package that includes the ankle brachial index test, abdominal aortic aneurysm ultrasound and carotid ultrasound. There is a $60 screening fee. For a screening appointment, call 843-522-5635.