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Arterioscler Thromb Vasc Biol. 1999 Jan;19(1):2-13.

Ultrasound and lipoproteins as predictors of lipid-rich, rupture-prone plaques in the carotid artery.

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Department of Vascular Surgery, Rigshospitalet, University Hospital of Copenhagen, Copenhagen, Denmark.


The aim of this review is to summarize present knowledge of the ultrasonic detection and determinants of carotid atherosclerosis with lipid-rich cores and to review the evidence that these measures of plaque type may predict cerebral events. With the use of high-resolution ultrasound B-mode imaging, carotid plaques evaluated as only weakly reflecting the ultrasound beam (echolucent) have been associated with a higher risk of neurological events than are plaques reflecting the ultrasound signal strongly (echorich). Histologically, these echolucent plaques have a higher content of lipid and hemorrhage than do echorich plaques, which contain more calcification and fibrous tissue. Findings in the coronary arteries indicate that a lipid-rich plaque with a thin, fibrous cap is more vulnerable, is more prone to rupture, and cause symptoms compared with fibrous plaques. A search for determinants in the blood for these vulnerable plaques suggests that low density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol is the best lipid predictor for the extent of atherosclerosis, whereas triglyceride-rich lipoproteins in particular seem to predict an echolucent plaque. Lowering of LDL cholesterol and triglyceride-rich lipoproteins in plasma is associated with reduced progression of coronary atherosclerosis and coronary events. LDL cholesterol reduction is also associated with a reduced stroke rate. These improvements in the prognosis are thought to be the result of a reduction in the lipid content of the plaques, making them more stable and resistant to rupture rather than an actual reduction in plaque volume and degree of stenosis. In conclusion, it appears that ultrasound B-mode imaging as well as lipoproteins presumably may predict dangerous and rupture-prone, lipid-rich plaques in the carotid arteries, thereby being potential diagnostic tools in the prevention of neurological events.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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