Background: A substantial proportion of patients undergoing heart catheterization for suspected coronary artery disease have normal angiograms. Coronary morphology and blood flow velocity can be assessed very accurately with intracoronary ultrasound and Doppler. The purpose of this study was to use both methods to classify further patients with suspected coronary artery disease but with coronary angiograms adjudged normal at the time.
Methods and results: In forty-four patients with suspected coronary artery disease and normal coronary angiograms, intracoronary ultrasound and intracoronary Doppler were performed in the left anterior descending and left main coronary arteries. Coronary flow reserve was obtained by calculating the ratio of the maximal coronary flow mean velocity after the intracoronary administration of 10 mg papaverine to the coronary flow mean velocity at rest. Of 44 patients, 16 (36%) (group I) were found to have normal coronary morphology by intracoronary ultrasound and normal (> 3.0) coronary flow reserve (5.3 +/- 1.8). In seven patients (16%) (group II) there were normal intracoronary ultrasonic findings but a reduced coronary flow reserve (2.1 +/- 0.4). Plaque formation was found in a total of 21 (48%) of the 44 patients; mean plaque sizes were 3.6 +/- 1.6 mm2 for those in group III (normal coronary flow reserve) and 5.0 +/- 2.3 mm2 for those in group IV (reduced coronary flow reserve). Vessel area in both of these groups (16.3 +/- 8.0 mm2 and 19.2 +/- 6.1 mm2) was significantly larger than that of group I (14.6 +/- 5.7 mm2, P < 0.01). Plaque calcification was found in 25% of those in group III and 44% of those in group IV. Thus, only 36% of the patients with normal angiograms were true normal, 48% exhibited early stage of coronary atherosclerosis, and the other 16% might be considered as syndrome X.
Conclusion: Intracoronary ultrasound and Doppler can be used to differentiate further heart disease in patients with normal coronary angiograms. Only a minority were true normal. Early signs of atherosclerosis cannot be detected by coronary angiography. This may have important therapeutic and prognostic implications.