Coexisting carotid atherosclerosis in patients with intracranial small- or large-vessel disease

J Clin Neurol. 2012 Jun;8(2):104-8. doi: 10.3988/jcn.2012.8.2.104. Epub 2012 Jun 29.


Background and purpose: The coexistence of carotid atherosclerosis in ischemic stroke patients with small-vessel disease (SVD) or intracranial large-vessel disease (ICLVD) was investigated using carotid duplex ultrasonography, and whether its coexistence affected the clinical prognosis was determined.

Methods: Ischemic stroke patients with SVD or ICLVD were enrolled (n=103). Risk factors, demographic data, and National Institutes of Health Stroke Scale (NIHSS) scores were obtained for all of the subjects. Early neurological progression was defined by an increase in NIHSS score during the first 7 days. Carotid ultrasonography was performed to measure the intima-media thickness (IMT) and carotid plaques.

Results: Among the 103 patients who were retrospectively enrolled in this study (56 with SVD and 47 with ICLVD), 66 (64.1%) had an atherosclerotic plaque and 23 (22.3%) had increased IMT. Increased IMT was observed more frequently in ICLVD than in SVD [15/47 (31.9%) vs. 8/56 (14.3%), p=0.032]. An atherosclerotic plaque was observed on subsequent carotid ultrasonographic examination in 28 (50%) of the 56 patients whose computed tomography angiography scans of the neck vessels were interpreted as normal. There was no association between presence of atherosclerotic change and early neurologic progression (p=0.94).

Conclusions: A coexisting atherosclerotic plaque or increased IMT was observed in 71.8% of patients with SVD or ICLVD. Whether the coexistence of carotid atherosclerotic change with either of these conditions affects the clinical prognosis remains to be elucidated.

Keywords: atherosclerosis; intracranial large-vessel disease; plaque; small-vessel disease; stroke.