CT imaging features of carotid artery plaque vulnerability

Ann Transl Med. 2020 Oct;8(19):1261. doi: 10.21037/atm-2020-cass-13.


Despite steady advances in medical care, cardiovascular disease remains one of the main causes of death and long-term morbidity worldwide. Up to 30% of strokes are associated with the presence of carotid atherosclerotic plaques. While the degree of stenosis has long been recognized as the main guiding factor in risk stratification and therapeutical decisions, recent evidence suggests that features of unstable, or 'vulnerable', plaques offer better prognostication capabilities. This paradigmatic shift has motivated researchers to explore the potentialities of non-invasive diagnostic tools to image not only the lumen, but also the vascular wall and the structural characteristics of the plaque. The present review will offer a panoramic on the imaging modalities currently available to characterize carotid atherosclerotic plaques and, in particular, it will focus on the increasingly important role covered by multidetector computed tomographic angiography.

Keywords: Carotid; atherosclerosis; computed tomography angiography (CTA); vulnerable plaque.

Publication types

  • Review