A new study shows that brain changes associated with vascular disease can be detected via neuroimaging tests—even before a patient presents with symptoms or signs of cardiovascular or cerebrovascular disease. This has positive implications for patients for the prevention, identification, and advancement of vascular disease by vascular specialists.

The study’s lead author, Dr. Joseph I. Friedman, MD, Associate Professor in the Departments of Psychiatry and Neuroscience at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, says this discovery is the first of its kind—”This is the first time we have been able to disentangle the brain effects of vascular disease risk factors from the brain effects of cardiovascular and cerebrovascular disease and/or events after they develop. Moreover, subtle cognitive impairment is an important clinical manifestation of these vascular disease risk factor-related brain imaging changes in these otherwise healthy persons.”

Dr. Friedman goes on to say that the findings in this study “present a new window of opportunity” for physicians. It provides them with another, valuable diagnostic tool, allowing early intervention and prevention of advancement of vascular diseases in patients. These hypotheses are being tested in ongoing studies at Mount Sinai.

“We hope our publication serves as a primer for cardiologists and other doctors interpreting the early neuroimaging data of their patients who may be high risk for vascular disease,” says senior article author Jagat Narula, MD, PhD, Director of Cardiovascular Imaging, Professor of Medicine and Philip J. and Harriet L. Goodhart Chair in Cardiology at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. “These subtle brain changes are clues to us physicians that our patients need to start to lower their vascular risk factors always and way before symptoms or a cardiac or brain event happens. This simple step to lower vascular risk factors can have huge impacts on global prevention efforts of cardiovascular diseases.”

The neuroimaging scans of patients who smoked, were obese and had high blood pressure, metabolic syndrome, diabetes, and high cholesterol, showed structural and functional brain changes long before they ever experienced or presented with any vascular diseases and events such as heart attack or stroke.

The findings in this study are significant for cardiologists and other physicians who will now be able to provide early intervention to patients at risk for vascular diseases.

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