'Hidden' Brain Abnormalities Common

"Detecting these lesions could lead to more invasive diagnostic procedures, such as brain biopsies, which do also carry a significant risk of morbidity and mortality," said Dr. Roger Härtl, assistant professor of neurological surgery at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York.

Saper agrees. "Every anxious patient in the United States will want a useless MRI scan next week.

"This can contribute more to medical cost, and little to medical care or patient health, but it will scare the heck out of a lot of people and cause a lot of needless worry and testing."

Brain experts also question whether the findings in a white middle class suburb in the Netherlands can be applied to the diverse ethnic population of the United States.

"Obviously different ethnic groups may have different incidence of certain diseases," said Härtl.

"Multiethnic cohorts with a greater representation of blacks and Hispanics may have a greater burden of these findings," added Dr. Ralph Sacco, chair of neurology at the University of Miami.

"The 'healthy' study population in this study may [actually] underestimate the true number of these conditions," Sacco added.

Hints for Stroke Prevention

Still, the findings may offer valuable insight into disease processes -- as well as allow those at risk of certain brain problems to make healthy lifestyle changes before it's too late.

Although little can be done to prevent brain tumors or aneurysms, "these studies might force much greater energy and care into primary prevention of stroke," said Dr. Dennis Landis, chairman of the department of neurology at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.

Other doctors agree.

"This study is a wake-up call to employ lifestyle changes," Kelly said.

The findings "might stimulate treating physicians to opt for a more aggressive stroke prevention strategy than if the brain was normal," said Dr. Louis Caplan, professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School.

"All in all this paper does not present any surprises, but offers support for the use of screening techniques to enable us to prevent events once we are forewarned, said Dr. Eugene Flamm, chairman of the department of neurosurgery at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in Bronx, N.Y.

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