Specificity of MR angiography as a confirmatory test for carotid artery stenosis: is it valid?

AJR Am J Roentgenol. 2007 Apr;188(4):1114-6. doi: 10.2214/AJR.06.0414.


Objective: We believe that many studies in the literature show a falsely elevated specificity for carotid MR angiography (MRA) in the detection of high-grade stenosis. The purpose of this study was to test the hypothesis that inclusion of a substantial proportion of normal carotid arteries in a study population will falsely elevate the specificity of MRA for confirming a high-grade carotid artery stenosis.

Materials and methods: Seventy-seven carotid arteries were evaluated in 63 patients suspected of having a high-grade carotid stenosis, and all vessels were evaluated with contrast-enhanced MRA. Two subgroups were created, and the specificity of MRA was calculated for each group using digital subtraction angiography (DSA) as the gold standard. Group 1 included 44 vessels classified as high-grade stenosis on sonography and all were evaluated with DSA. To test our hypothesis, group 2 included the 44 carotid arteries from group 1 plus 33 carotid arteries classified as normal or minimally narrowed on sonography and MRA.

Results: In group 1, the specificity of MRA for accurately confirming a high-grade stenosis was 29% for contrast-enhanced maximum-intensity-projection (MIP) images alone and 75% for contrast-enhanced axially reformatted source images as compared with DSA. When the 33 normal arteries from group 2 were added to the data set, the specificities increased to 70% and 89%, respectively.

Conclusion: The calculated specificity of MRA as a confirmatory test for high-grade carotid stenosis is highly dependent on the proportion of normal carotid arteries included in the calculation. Based on our results, the specificity of MRA reported in the literature has likely been overstated because of spectrum bias.

Publication types

  • Validation Study

MeSH terms

  • Angiography, Digital Subtraction*
  • Carotid Stenosis / diagnosis*
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Angiography* / methods
  • Sensitivity and Specificity