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Am J Cardiol. 1989 Mar 7;63(10):114E-120E.

Morphologic features of unstable atherothrombotic plaques underlying acute coronary syndromes.

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Institute of Pathology, Odense, Denmark.


Unstable angina appears to be a good clinical marker for rapidly progressing coronary artery disease. Pathologically, an unstable atherothrombotic coronary lesion, represented by a raised atherosclerotic plaque with ruptured surface causing variable degree of hemorrhage into the plaque and luminal thrombosis (rapid plaque progression), usually is present in patients at autopsy after a period of unstable angina. The thrombus at the rupture site may be mural and limited (just sealing the rupture) or occlusive, depending on the degree of preexisting atherosclerotic stenosis. An occlusive thrombus is seldom seen over ruptured plaques causing less than 75% stenosis (histologic cross-sectional area reduction), but it is found with increasing frequency when severity of stenosis increases beyond 75%. Most occlusive thrombi have a layered structure with thrombus material of differing age indicating an episodic growth by repeated mural deposits, and microemboli/microinfarcts are frequently found in the myocardium downstream to coronary thrombi, indicating intermittent thrombus fragmentation with peripheral embolization. Such a "dynamic thrombosis" (with or without a concomitant focal vasospastic phenomenon) at the site of an unstable (ruptured) atherosclerotic lesion obviously may lead to the other thrombus-related acute coronary events: myocardial infarction or sudden death. Accordingly, progression of unstable angina to myocardial infarction or sudden death should, in principle, be preventable by the correct timing of current available therapies aimed to prevent or eliminate (1) the chronic atherosclerotic obstruction, (2) the acute plaque disruption, (3) luminal thrombosis, and (4) vasospasm.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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