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Int J Legal Med. 2015 Sep;129(5):1067-77. doi: 10.1007/s00414-015-1191-5. Epub 2015 Apr 24.

Pathomorphological and CT-angiographical characteristics of coronary atherosclerotic plaques in cases of sudden cardiac death.

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University Center of Legal Medicine, Lausanne, Switzerland,


The goal of this study was to assess the localization and types of thrombosed plaques in cases of sudden cardiac death attributed to coronary artery disease and to evaluate possible correlations with body mass index (BMI) and increased heart weight. This retrospective study was performed on forensic cases for which the cause of death was attributed to coronary artery disease. A complete autopsy and a multi-phase postmortem computed tomography (CT) angiography (MPMCTA) were performed in all cases. Eighty-five cases were selected (mean age, 55.18 ± 11.04 years; 72 men and 13 women). MPMCTA performed prior to autopsy enabled an evaluation of coronary artery perfusion before dissection of the body and helped therefore to guide sampling for histology. An acute coronary thrombosis was found in 57 cases, which included plaque erosion in 26 cases (mean age, 46.73 ± 8.33 years) and rupture or intra-plaque hemorrhage in 31 cases (mean age, 58.23 ± 10.62 years). Erosions were most frequently found in the left anterior descending artery (61.5%), while only 35.48% of ruptures were observed in this artery. Chronic coronary pathology was considered as the main cause of death in 28 cases (mean age, 59.64 ± 9.47 years). Sixty-two of the cases (72.94%) had a BMI in the overweight category (BMI ≥25), with the highest mean BMI in patients with chronic coronary pathology without acute thrombosis found at autopsy. The heart weight was above the predicted reference values in 52 cases (61.18%). Our results are in accordance with previously published studies on the spatial distribution of vulnerable plaques. We observed a higher percentage of eroded plaques than previously reported. Patients with coronary erosions were significantly younger than those with plaque rupture or those without an acute coronary thrombosis (p values <0.0001). BMI and heart weight were significantly higher for cases without thrombosis in comparison with those with plaque rupture (p values 0.028 and 0.003, respectively). Our results indicating that increased BMI and overweight hearts are associated with chronic ischemic heart disease are compatible with clinical studies. Performing more postmortem studies on forensic autopsies, including modern radiological examinations with MPMCTA, can enhance the detection of vulnerable plaques in living patients and prevent sudden cardiac death.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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