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JACC Cardiovasc Imaging. 2014 Oct;7(10):1025-38. doi: 10.1016/j.jcmg.2013.11.014. Epub 2014 Jul 16.

Carotid intima-media thickness and plaque in cardiovascular risk assessment.

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Echocardiography Laboratory, Mayo Clinic, Scottsdale, Arizona; Cardiac Noninvasive Laboratories, Keck School of Medicine, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, California. Electronic address:
Cardiac Noninvasive Laboratories, Keck School of Medicine, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, California.


Carotid intima-media thickness (CIMT) has been shown to predict cardiovascular (CV) risk in multiple large studies. Careful evaluation of CIMT studies reveals discrepancies in the comprehensiveness with which CIMT is assessed-the number of carotid segments evaluated (common carotid artery [CCA], internal carotid artery [ICA], or the carotid bulb), the type of measurements made (mean or maximum of single measurements, mean of the mean, or mean of the maximum for multiple measurements), the number of imaging angles used, whether plaques were included in the intima-media thickness (IMT) measurement, the report of adjusted or unadjusted models, risk association versus risk prediction, and the arbitrary cutoff points for CIMT and for plaque to predict risk. Measuring the far wall of the CCA was shown to be the least variable method for assessing IMT. However, meta-analyses suggest that CCA-IMT alone only minimally improves predictive power beyond traditional risk factors, whereas inclusion of the carotid bulb and ICA-IMT improves prediction of both cardiac risk and stroke risk. Carotid plaque appears to be a more powerful predictor of CV risk compared with CIMT alone. Quantitative measures of plaques such as plaque number, plaque thickness, plaque area, and 3-dimensional assessment of plaque volume appear to be progressively more sensitive in predicting CV risk than mere assessment of plaque presence. Limited data show that plaque characteristics including plaque vascularity may improve CV disease risk stratification further. IMT measurement at the CCA, carotid bulb, and ICA that allows inclusion of plaque in the IMT measurement or CCA-IMT measurement along with plaque assessment in all carotid segments is emerging as the focus of carotid artery ultrasound imaging for CV risk prediction.


cardiovascular risk; carotid artery; intima-media thickness; plaque; ultrasound

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