Rationale: Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is an independent risk factor for ischemic stroke and the risk increases with severity of airflow limitation. Even though vulnerable carotid artery plaque components, such as intraplaque hemorrhage and lipid core, place persons at high risk for ischemic events, the plaque composition in patients with COPD has never been explored.
Objectives: To investigate the prevalence of carotid wall thickening, the different carotid artery plaque components, and their relationship with severity of airflow limitation in elderly patients with COPD.
Methods: This cross-sectional analysis was part of the Rotterdam Study, a prospective population-based cohort study performed in subjects aged 55 years and older. Diagnosis of COPD was confirmed by spirometry. Participants with carotid wall intima-media thickness greater than or equal to 2.5 mm on ultrasonography underwent high-resolution magnetic resonance imaging for characterization of carotid plaques. Data were analyzed using logistic regression.
Measurements and main results: COPD cases (n = 253) had a twofold increased risk (odds ratio, 2.0; 95% confidence interval, 1.44-2.85; P < 0.0001) of presentation with carotid wall thickening on ultrasonography compared with control subjects with a normal lung function (n = 920). Moreover, the risk increased significantly with severity of airflow limitation. On magnetic resonance imaging, vulnerable lipid core plaques were more frequent in COPD cases than in control subjects (odds ratio, 2.1; 95% confidence interval, 1.25-3.69; P = 0.0058).
Conclusions: Carotid artery wall thickening is more prevalent in patients with COPD than in control subjects. In elderly subjects with carotid wall thickening, COPD is an independent predictor for the presence of a lipid core, and therefore of vulnerable plaques.