Purpose: The evolution of atherosclerosis can be studied before development of symptomatic plaque by evaluating morphologic changes of the intima-media (I-M) complex, seen on high-resolution ultrasonography of the arterial wall. These qualitative changes require large alterations in vessel wall appearance to recognize progression of atherosclerosis. It has been suggested that measurement of the thickness of the I-M complex may be a quantitative and more sensitive method of assessing these early atherosclerotic changes.
Methods: High-resolution ultrasonography has been used to measure the thickness of the I-M complex in 140 symptom-free subjects.
Results: The mean thickness of the I-M complex of the common carotid arteries was linearly related to the age (r = 0.77; p < 0.001), pack-years of smoking (r = 0.39; p < 0.05), the systolic blood pressure (r = 0.51, p < 0.01), and to the arterial ultrasound score (r = 0.85). The arterial ultrasound score has previously been shown to correlate with the presence of asymptomatic myocardial ischemia and with the development of cardiovascular symptoms. The mean thickness of the I-M complex in subjects without plaque (in the common carotid or common femoral artery bifurcations) was significantly thinner than in subjects with plaque (p < 0.001).
Conclusion: The thickness of the I-M complex of the common carotid arteries is a measure of the risk for the development of cardiovascular symptoms in symptom-free individuals.