Aims: Over recent decades the interest in cardiovascular epidemiology has broadened from studies on causes and consequences of elevated cardiovascular risk factors to include research on causes and consequences of atherosclerosis and associated arterial wall abnormalities. One of the underlying reasons was that established cardiovascular risk factors were insufficiently accurate in identifying those individuals who will suffer from cardiovascular disease in the future and measures of subclinical atherosclerosis may enhance the precision of these predictions and thus enable better-tailored medical care to be provided. The usefulness of measuring subclinical atherosclerosis is conditional on evidence that presence of subclinical atherosclerosis confers an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and that favourable changes in subclinical atherosclerosis parallel reductions in risk. We aimed at providing an overview of epidemiological data on carotid intima-media thickness (CIMT) and arterial stiffness measurements and their relation to risk of cardiovascular disease.
Methods: We reviewed the published epidemiological data.
Results and conclusion: CIMT is a good indicator of cardiovascular risk and provides a graded measure of vascular damage: no clear CIMT level above which the cardiovascular risk appears to increase considerably The evidence for arterial stiffness, assessed as carotid distensibility or aortic pulse wave velocity, as an indicator for risk of cardiovascular disease is restricted to subjects with either hypertension or end-stage renal disease or based on small studies in renal transplant patients and elderly. Evidence to indicate that information on carotid intima-media thickness or arterial stiffness, additional to established cardiovascular risk factors, helps to distinguish subjects into those with a high and those with a low absolute risk of cardiovascular disease is limited, but needed. Also, information on the direct comparison of both arterial stiffness measures in their ability to predict cardiovascular disease is needed.