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Freeing Up the Flow: Clearing neck-artery blockage diminishes signs of depression in elderly

Unclogging and propping open the large artery that supplies blood to the head can ease symptoms of depression in elderly people. That finding adds fuel to the debate over the hypothesis that impaired blood flow to the brain can cause depression.

Wolfgang Mlekusch of Vienna General Hospital in Austria and his colleagues identified 143 patients, average age 70, who were scheduled to undergo a procedure to open a blocked portion of the carotid artery. All patients had at least an 80 percent blockage in one of the branches of this artery, which carries freshly oxygenated blood from the heart.

In the medical procedure, performed under local anesthesia, a doctor inserted a balloon-tipped catheter into an artery near the patient's groin or in an arm and threaded it up to the neck. Then, the doctor inflated the balloon to push aside the blockage and installed a mesh cylinder called a stent, which propped open the carotid artery.

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