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Smokers who see ultrasound images of plaque built up in their carotid artery in their neck are no more likely to quit than those who don’t see the pictures, a new study has found.

The researchers wanted to know if seeing a buildup of plaque in their arteries would serve as a “teachable moment” for smokers, boosting their smoking cessation rates when added to an intensive quit-smoking program, The Wall Street Journal reports.

Although plaque buildup in the carotid artery is a predictor of a person’s risk of cardiovascular disease, it is not clear whether screening improves health, the researchers noted.

The 536 smokers in the study, who smoked an average of a pack a day, were divided into two groups. One group received the screening, and both groups participated in a one-year smoking cessation program. The program included nicotine replacement therapy and six 20-minute individual counseling sessions.

After one year, 24.9 percent of those in the screening group quit, as did 22.1 percent in the non-screening group, a difference the researchers said was not significant. There was no difference in the quit rates of those with and without plaque.

Lead author Nicolas Rodondi said all of the smokers were motivated to quit, which may explain why adding the plaque screening didn’t significantly increase quit rates.

The results are published online in the Archives of Internal Medicine.

In an editorial that accompanies the study, Patrick O’Malley, a professor at Uniformed Services University, who authored a study with similar findings, wrote that teaching doctors to communicate effectively with patients should be more important than using imaging.“A picture may be worth a thousand words, but relationships move mountains when it comes to transformative personal change,” he said.


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