Atherosclerotic plaque features and distribution in bilateral carotid arteries of asymptomatic elderly population: A 3D multicontrast MR vessel wall imaging study

Eur J Radiol. 2017 Nov:96:6-11. doi: 10.1016/j.ejrad.2017.09.004. Epub 2017 Sep 14.


Purpose: This study sought to investigate the characteristics of morphology, compositions and distribution of carotid atherosclerotic plaques in asymptomatic elderly population using three dimensional (3D) multicontrast magnetic resonance vessel wall imaging.

Materials and methods: 146 asymptomatic elderly subjects (≥60years) were recruited and underwent 3D multicontrast MR vessel wall imaging for bilateral carotid arteries on a 3.0T MR scanner. The presence of carotid atherosclerotic plaque was determined and the stenosis was measured. The characteristics of plaque morphology and compositions were evaluated and compared among distal internal carotid artery (D-ICA), proximal-ICA (P-ICA), carotid bulb (CB), distal common carotid artery (D-CCA) and proximal-CCA (P-CCA).

Results: Of all recruited 140 subjects (72.1±5.7years, 63 males), 87 (62.1%) had carotid plaques, 17 (12.1%) had high-risk plaques and 51 (36.4%) had multiple plaques. Of all 280 carotid arteries, only 16 (5.7%) had luminal stenosis (21.1%±11.4%). Among carotid arteries without luminal stenosis, the prevalence of plaque and high-risk plaques was 43.2% and 8.3%, respectively. Carotid plaques were mostly found in CB segment (33.9%), followed by P-ICA (13.6%), P-CCA (11.1%), D-CCA (4.6%) and D-ICA (3.6%). Age was independently associated with presence of multiple carotid plaques (odds ratio, 1.835; 95% confidence interval, 1.196-2.815; P=0.005).

Conclusion: Carotid artery atherosclerotic plaques are prevalent and a substantial number of high-risk plaques can be found in the asymptomatic elderly subjects. Longitudinal studies are warranted to investigate the risk of having ischemic stroke for asymptomatic elderly individuals with carotid artery high risk plaques.

Keywords: Atherosclerosis; Carotid artery; Magnetic resonance imaging; Vessel wall; Vulnerable plaque.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Carotid Stenosis / diagnostic imaging*
  • Carotid Stenosis / pathology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Imaging, Three-Dimensional / methods*
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods*
  • Male
  • Pilot Projects
  • Plaque, Atherosclerotic / diagnostic imaging*
  • Plaque, Atherosclerotic / pathology