If you're an older adult with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), your odds of having dangerous plaque buildup in your carotid artery—called carotid atherosclerosis—are twice that of someone who doesn't suffer from the lung disease. The carotid artery, located in the neck, delivers blood to the brain. If a plaque ruptures, it can lead to a blood clot that obstructs the artery, causing a stroke. What's more, plaques most associated with COPD contain a larger "lipid core," which heightens the risk for plaque rupture and ischemic stroke.

Dutch doctors studying 253 COPD patients ages 55 and older also noted that the more limited the airflow in patients, the thicker their carotid arteries. Overall, almost 75 percent of COPD patients had plaque formation in their carotid artery, compared with about 55 percent in a control group of 920 people who had normal lung function.

The study authors concluded that doctors need to recognize that people with COPD are at high risk for carotid atherosclerosis—and, consequently, stroke.

American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, published online 11/12; Prepared by the Editors of The Johns Hopkins Medical Letter: Health After 50

Publication Review By: the Editorial Staff at Healthcommunities.com

Published: 17 Jul 2013

Last Modified: 17 Jul 2013