Differentiating Carotid Free-Floating Thrombus From Atheromatous Plaque Using Intraluminal Filling Defect Length on CTA: A Validation Study

Neurology. 2021 Aug 24;97(8):e785-e793. doi: 10.1212/WNL.0000000000012368. Epub 2021 Jun 14.


Objective: To validate a previously proposed filling defect length threshold of >3.8 mm on CT angiography (CTA) to discriminate between free-floating thrombus (FFT) and plaque of atheroma.

Methods: This was a prospective multicenter observational study of 100 participants presenting with TIA/stroke symptoms and a carotid intraluminal filling defect on initial CTA. Follow-up CTA was obtained within 1 week and at weeks 2 and 4 if the intraluminal filling defect was unchanged in length. Resolution or decreased length was diagnostic of FFT, whereas its static appearance after 4 weeks was indicative of plaque. Diagnostic accuracy of FFT length was assessed by receiver operating characteristic analysis.

Results: Ninety-five participants (mean [SD] age 68 [13] years, 61 men, 83 participants with FFT, 12 participants with a plaque) were evaluated. The >3.8-mm threshold had a sensitivity of 88% (73 of 83) (95% confidence interval [CI] 78%-94%) and specificity of 83% (10 of 12) (95% CI 51%-97%) (area under the curve 0.91, p < 0.001) for the diagnosis of FFT. The optimal length threshold was >3.64 mm with a sensitivity of 89% (74 of 83) (95% CI 80%-95%) and specificity of 83% (10 of 12) (95% CI 51%-97%). Adjusted logistic regression showed that every 1-mm increase in intraluminal filling defect length is associated with an increase in odds of FFT of 4.6 (95% CI 1.9-11.1, p = 0.01).

Conclusion: CTA enables accurate differentiation of FFT vs plaque using craniocaudal length thresholds.

Trial registration information: ClinicalTrials.gov Identifier: NCT02405845.

Classification of evidence: This study provides Class I evidence that in patients with TIA/stroke symptoms, the presence of CTA-identified filling defects of lengths >3.8 mm accurately discriminates FFT from atheromatous plaque.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study
  • Observational Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Validation Study

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Carotid Artery Diseases / diagnostic imaging*
  • Computed Tomography Angiography / methods
  • Computed Tomography Angiography / standards*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Ischemic Attack, Transient / diagnostic imaging*
  • Ischemic Stroke / diagnostic imaging*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Plaque, Atherosclerotic / diagnostic imaging*
  • Prospective Studies
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Thrombosis / diagnostic imaging*

Associated data

  • ClinicalTrials.gov/NCT02405845