Non-invasive imaging of atherosclerosis

Eur Heart J Cardiovasc Imaging. 2012 Mar;13(3):205-18. doi: 10.1093/ehjci/jer319. Epub 2012 Jan 24.


Atherosclerosis is an inflammatory disease that causes most myocardial infarctions, strokes, and acute coronary syndromes. Despite the identification of multiple risk factors and widespread use of drug therapies, it still remains a global health concern with associated costs. It is well known that the risks of atherosclerotic plaque rupture are not well correlated with stenosis severity. Lumenography has a central place for defining the site and severity of vascular stenosis as a prelude to intervention for relief of symptoms due to blood flow limitation. Atherosclerosis develops within the arterial wall; this is not imaged by lumenography and hence it provides no information regarding underlying processes that may lead to plaque rupture. For this, we must rely on other imaging modalities such as ultrasound, computed tomography, magnetic resonance imaging, and nuclear imaging methods. These are capable of reporting on the underlying pathology, in particular the presence of inflammation, calcification, neovascularization, and intraplaque haemorrhage. Additionally, non-invasive imaging can now be used to track the effect of anti-atherosclerosis therapy. Each modality alone has positives and negatives and this review will highlight these, as well as speculating on future developments in this area.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Atherosclerosis / diagnosis*
  • Carotid Artery Diseases / diagnosis
  • Coronary Artery Disease / diagnosis
  • Humans
  • Plaque, Atherosclerotic / diagnosis
  • Plaque, Atherosclerotic / pathology
  • Plaque, Atherosclerotic / physiopathology*