Defining the non-vulnerable and vulnerable patients with computed tomography coronary angiography: evaluation of atherosclerotic plaque burden and composition

Eur Heart J Cardiovasc Imaging. 2016 May;17(5):481-91. doi: 10.1093/ehjci/jew012. Epub 2016 Feb 21.


The shift from coronary plaque stability to plaque instability remains poorly understood despite enormous efforts and expenditures have been assigned to the study of the subject. On the other hand, there have been serious advances in imaging helping us to characterizenon-vulnerable patients The latter has much more value in the clinical decision-making process since it provides high certainty that the patient's probability of a future acute event is low and treatment decisions should be made accordingly. Although coronary plaque rupture is still recognized as the main source of acute thrombotic events, numerous studies have shown that the prediction of events on an individual basis is far more complex and demands a more open approach aimed at characterizing patient risk rather than assessing the risk of thrombosis of a single plaque. Computed tomography coronary angiography (CTCA) has the ability to evaluate non-invasively the extent, burden, severity, and characteristics of coronary artery disease (CAD) and has a close relationship to intravascular ultrasound. On the basis of an excellent negative predictive value with an annualized event rate of ∼0.20% assessed over more than 6000 patients, thus providing a 5-year warranty period, CTCA has been identified as the finest non-invasive tool to exclude CAD. This means that CTCA is able to reliably characterize the non-vulnerable patient. Conversely, in the past few years, several studies have attempted to establish CTCA-derived predictors of acute coronary syndromes, both from a lesion level and a patient level basis with very low positive predictive value, thus questioning the vulnerable patient/plaque concept.

Keywords: atherosclerosis; computed tomography; coronary; imaging.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Coronary Angiography / methods*
  • Coronary Artery Disease / pathology*
  • Humans
  • Plaque, Atherosclerotic / pathology*
  • Predictive Value of Tests
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed / methods*