Carotid plaque gross morphology and clinical presentation: a prospective study of 457 carotid artery specimens

J Surg Res. 2000 Mar;89(1):78-84. doi: 10.1006/jsre.1999.5809.


Background and purpose: In carotid artery disease, the relationship between carotid plaque morphology and the patient's neurologic symptoms is reportedly conflicting. The aim of this study was to correlate gross carotid plaque characteristics with the presenting symptoms in a relatively large series of patients who underwent carotid endarterectomy (CEA).

Methods: Four hundred and five patients who underwent 461 CEAs were divided into three groups: (1) transiently symptomatic [transient ischemic attack (TIA) or amaurosis fugax]; (2) prior stroke; and (3) asymptomatic. The degree of stenosis based on the preoperative angiograms was used in association with the presenting symptoms as the primary criterion in the decision to operate. Carotid plaque characteristics, including ulcerated plaque (UP), intraplaque hemorrhage (IH), uncomplicated plaque, and degree of stenosis, were recorded prospectively for 457 CEAs, since 4 CEAs were excluded from the study. All CEA specimens were grossly evaluated at surgery.

Results: There was a statistically higher incidence of UP in transiently symptomatic (P = 0.008) or prior stroke (P = 0.006) patients than in the asymptomatic group. When IH was considered independently, its incidence did not differ significantly between the three groups. Previously symptomatic patients tended to have higher-grade stenosis than asymptomatic patients, although the difference failed to reach statistical significance (P = 0.06). Although the incidences of UP and IH were higher in the higher-grade stenosis group, the difference was again not significant.

Conclusions: Carotid UP correlates closely with an initial presentation of TIA, amaurosis fugax, or prior stroke, while the association between IH and presenting symptoms is less clear. Although there is an insignificant trend toward a correlation between the higher degrees of stenosis and the onset of transient symptoms, the degree of stenosis appears unaffected by the morphology of the plaque. These findings suggest that plaque morphology may play an important role in the presentation of carotid artery disease.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Amaurosis Fugax / pathology
  • Carotid Artery, Internal / pathology*
  • Carotid Stenosis / complications
  • Carotid Stenosis / pathology*
  • Carotid Stenosis / physiopathology*
  • Carotid Stenosis / surgery
  • Cerebral Hemorrhage / etiology
  • Cerebral Hemorrhage / pathology
  • Endarterectomy
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Ischemic Attack, Transient / pathology
  • Male
  • Prospective Studies
  • Stroke / pathology