Misconceptions regarding the adequacy of best medical intervention alone for asymptomatic carotid stenosis

J Vasc Surg. 2020 Jan;71(1):257-269. doi: 10.1016/j.jvs.2019.04.490. Epub 2019 Sep 26.


Background: Medical intervention (risk factor identification, lifestyle coaching, and medication) for stroke prevention has improved significantly. It is likely that no more than 5.5% of persons with advanced asymptomatic carotid stenosis (ACS) will now benefit from a carotid procedure during their lifetime. However, some question the adequacy of medical intervention alone for such persons and propose using markers of high stroke risk to intervene with carotid endarterectomy (CEA) and/or carotid angioplasty/stenting (CAS). Our aim was to examine the scientific validity and implications of this proposal.

Methods: We reviewed the evidence for using medical intervention alone or with additional CEA or CAS in persons with ACS. We also reviewed the evidence regarding the validity of using commonly cited makers of high stroke risk to select such persons for CEA or CAS, including markers proposed by the European Society for Vascular Surgery in 2017.

Results: Randomized trials of medical intervention alone versus additional CEA showed a definite statistically significant CEA stroke prevention benefit for ACS only for selected average surgical risk men aged less than 75 to 80 years with 60% or greater stenosis using the North American Symptomatic Carotid Endarterectomy Trial criteria. However, the most recent measurements of stroke rate with ACS using medical intervention alone are overall lower than for those who had CEA or CAS in randomized trials. Randomized trials of CEA versus CAS in persons with ACS were underpowered. However, the trend was for higher stroke and death rates with CAS. There are no randomized trial results related to comparing current optimal medical intervention with CEA or CAS. Commonly cited markers of high stroke risk in relation to ACS lack specificity, have not been assessed in conjunction with current optimal medical intervention, and have not been shown in randomized trials to identify those who benefit from a carotid procedure in addition to current optimal medical intervention.

Conclusions: Medical intervention has an established role in the current routine management of persons with ACS. Stroke risk stratification studies using current optimal medical intervention alone are the highest research priority for identifying persons likely to benefit from adding a carotid procedure.

Keywords: Asymptomatic carotid stenosis; Carotid endarterectomy; Carotid stenting; Medical intervention; Stroke prevention.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Asymptomatic Diseases
  • Cardiovascular Agents / adverse effects
  • Cardiovascular Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Carotid Stenosis / diagnostic imaging
  • Carotid Stenosis / epidemiology
  • Carotid Stenosis / physiopathology
  • Carotid Stenosis / therapy*
  • Clinical Decision-Making
  • Combined Modality Therapy
  • Counseling*
  • Endarterectomy, Carotid
  • Endovascular Procedures / instrumentation
  • Evidence-Based Medicine
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Patient Selection
  • Risk Assessment
  • Risk Factors
  • Risk Reduction Behavior*
  • Stents
  • Stroke / epidemiology
  • Stroke / physiopathology
  • Stroke / prevention & control*
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Cardiovascular Agents