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Arterioscler Thromb Vasc Biol. 1999 Jun;19(6):1484-90.

The natural course of atherosclerosis. Part I: incidence and progression.

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1
Department of Neurology, Innsbruck University Hospital, Innsbruck, Austria.

Abstract

The natural course of early atherogenesis is not well established. The current prospective survey was designed to monitor 5-year changes in carotid atherosclerosis in a large, stratified random sample of the general population using high-resolution duplex ultrasound (Bruneck Study). Incidence rates of carotid atherosclerosis ranged from near zero to 184 per 1000 person-years. Most atherosclerotic lesions developed at sites with enhanced wall thickness. Incidence of atherosclerosis in premenopausal women was less than half of that observed in men of equal age. The sex difference disappeared within 5 years after menopause and may possibly be attributed to sex variations in body iron stores. Preexisting atherosclerotic lesions may experience 1 of 2 different types of disease progression. 1) The first main type of plaque growth causing nonstenotic or diffuse dilative atherosclerosis was characterized by slow and continuous plaque extension, which usually affected several lesions simultaneously and did not primarily focus on the carotid bifurcation. This step-by-step process relied on a cumulative exposure to well-known risk factors such as hyper-lipidemia. Compensatory enlargement of the artery at the site of active atherosclerosis effectively preserved a (near) normal lumen. 2) The second main type of plaque growth was characterized by occasional prominent increases in lesion size. This process primarily occurred in the internal carotid artery and was mediated by procoagulant risk factors in a way that peak levels were relevant rather than cumulative exposure. As the main underlying pathomechanism, atherothrombosis may be hypothesized. Marked increases in plaque size and insufficient vascular remodeling acted synergistically in producing a significant compromise of the lumen. The current study provides novel insights into the natural course of early carotid atherosclerosis, thereby focusing on disease incidence and various types of spontaneous disease progression. Nonstenotic or diffuse dilating atherosclerosis and focal stenotic disease were found to constitute epidemiologically and etiologically distinct disease entities that develop and proceed independently of each other.

PMID:
10364079
[Indexed for MEDLINE]
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