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Neuroimaging Clin N Am. 2002 Aug;12(3):421-35.

B-mode ultrasound and spiral CT for the assessment of carotid atherosclerosis.

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Department of Vascular Surgery RK, Rigshospitalet, University of Copenhagen, Blegdamsvej 9, DK-2100 Copenhagen, Denmark.


More studies on the natural history of carotid artery plaques are needed to predict more reliably which plaque types or features are the most dangerous (see Table 2). Studies on carotid and coronary endarterectomy specimens indicate a dynamic process of rupture, thrombus formation, healing, and remodeling of the plaque. A plaque from a symptomatic patient may not show any signs of plaque rupture if the plaque has healed or evolved since the debut of symptoms. Selection of high-risk symptomatic patients with carotid atherosclerosis for medical or surgical treatment requires reliable, noninvasive, and cost-effective imaging methods. B-mode ultrasonography can be used for detection of early (IMT) as well as late (plaque morphology) atherosclerotic disease. Plaque morphology evaluation on spiral CT imaging is only for research and not yet for clinical use. Asymptomatic patients with carotid atherosclerosis hardly benefit from surgical treatment, as the minimal decrease in ischemic stroke risk is almost equal to the risk of perioperative stroke or death. A high degree of carotid stenosis measured using conventional angiography is an accepted risk factor for stroke but does not identify all vulnerable plaques. Echolucency on ultrasound B-mode imaging can be included as an important parameter in this risk stratification, as it appears to predict rupture-prone, lipid-rich plaques in the mild to severely stenotic carotid artery of a symptomatic patient. The subjective evaluation of plaque morphology on B-mode ultrasound should be complemented or substituted with objective evaluation such as videodensitometric analysis. This method is commercially available and is a relatively cheap and investigator-independent solution, but more studies are required to determine the exact contribution of echolucency to stroke risk. Furthermore, the evaluation of plaque morphology using ultrasound B-mode is still subject to large variations and observer-dependence, limiting its clinical use. In contrast, carotid IMT measurements are reliable to monitor progression and regression of early carotid disease as well as the impact of interventions. This method, however, suffers when used in severely diseased vessels where the boundaries of the IMT complex are hard to distinguish in all segments of the artery. Spiral CT imaging is a preliminary test for plaque characterization, as it primarily identifies calcification but not the more relevant lipid component. Moreover, it is time and resource demanding and involves use of both contrast and radiation, increasing the risk of allergic events and cancer. Standardization and continuous quality control are important, as are consensus agreements on how to quantify lesions (especially IMT), calibrate and standardize B-mode images and outline the plaque, and analyze data. The development of imaging methods for atherosclerotic research is currently fast and promising. This progress is most necessary, considering the very high demands for surrogate endpoints and risk markers in clinical intervention studies. Whether ultrasonic plaque characterization can be implemented in broad general clinical practice, for example, in screening of individuals at high risk of developing atherosclerosis and ischemic events, has to be based upon data from large prospective studies with long-term follow-up. IMT is already used in population screening, as in the ARIC study [9,101].

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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