Background: The purpose of the study was to assess in a prospective design whether plaque morphology is associated with risk of ischemic stroke and other cerebrovascular events in subjects with carotid stenosis.
Methods and results: A total of 223 subjects with carotid stenosis (123 with 35% to 49% degree of stenosis, 100 with 50% to 99% stenosis) and 215 control subjects matched by age and sex who participated in a population health survey at baseline were followed up for 3 years. Plaque echogenicity was assessed by ultrasound at baseline and scored as echolucent, predominantly echolucent, predominantly echogenic, or echogenic. Forty-four subjects experienced >/=1 ischemic cerebrovascular events in the follow-up period. Plaque echogenicity, degree of stenosis, and white blood cell count were independent predictors of cerebrovascular events. The unadjusted relative risk for cerebrovascular events was 13.0 (95% CI 4.5 to 37.4) in subjects with echolucent plaques and 3.7 (95% CI 0.7 to 18.2) in subjects with echogenic plaques when subjects without stenosis were used as the reference. The adjusted relative risk for cerebrovascular events in subjects with echolucent plaques was 4.6 (95% CI 1.1 to 18.9), and there was a significant linear trend (P=0.015) for higher risk with increasing plaque echolucency. The adjusted relative risk for a 10% increase in the degree of stenosis was 1.2 (95% CI 1.04 to 1.4).
Conclusions: Subjects with echolucent atherosclerotic plaques have increased risk of ischemic cerebrovascular events independent of degree of stenosis and cardiovascular risk factors. Subjects at high risk for ischemic vascular events may be identified by ultrasound assessment of plaque morphology.