Background: The combined thickness of the intima and media of the carotid artery is associated with the prevalence of cardiovascular disease. We studied the associations between the thickness of the carotid-artery intima and media and the incidence of new myocardial infarction or stroke in persons without clinical cardiovascular disease.
Methods: Noninvasive measurements of the intima and media of the common and internal carotid artery were made with high-resolution ultrasonography in 5858 subjects 65 years of age or older. Cardiovascular events (new myocardial infarction or stroke) served as outcome variables in subjects without clinical cardiovascular disease (4476 subjects) over a median follow-up period of 6.2 years.
Results: The incidence of cardiovascular events correlated with measurements of carotid-artery intima-media thickness. The relative risk of myocardial infarction or stroke increased with intima-media thickness (P<0.001). The relative risk of myocardial infarction or stroke (adjusted for age and sex) for the quintile with the highest thickness as compared with the lowest quintile was 3.87 (95 percent confidence interval, 2.72 to 5.51). The association between cardiovascular events and intima-media thickness remained significant after adjustment for traditional risk factors, showing increasing risks for each quintile of combined intima-media thickness, from the second quintile (relative risk, 1.54; 95 percent confidence interval, 1.04 to 2.28), to the third (relative risk, 1.84; 95 percent confidence interval, 1.26 to 2.67), fourth (relative risk, 2.01; 95 percent confidence interval, 1.38 to 2.91), and fifth (relative risk, 3.15; 95 percent confidence interval, 2.19 to 4.52). The results of separate analyses of myocardial infarction and stroke paralleled those for the combined end point.
Conclusions: Increases in the thickness of the intima and media of the carotid artery, as measured noninvasively by ultrasonography, are directly associated with an increased risk of myocardial infarction and stroke in older adults without a history of cardiovascular disease.