Closed relation between carotid and ascending aortic atherosclerosis in cardiac patients

I E Kallikazaros, C P Tsioufis, C I Stefanadis, C E Pitsavos, P K Toutouzas
Circulation 2000 November 7, 102 (19 Suppl 3): III263-8

BACKGROUND: Carotid atherosclerosis and aortic atherosclerosis are both associated with coronary artery disease and cerebral thromboembolism. However, the relationship between asymptomatic carotid and aortic atherosclerosis is not well known.

METHODS AND RESULTS: Sixty-two consecutive cardiac patients (mean age 57 years) without a history of atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease who were referred for transesophageal echocardiography were included. By means of a high-resolution ultrasound technique, normal carotid arteries were found in 12 patients (19.4%), whereas 15 patients (24. 2%) had increased intima-media thickness, and the remaining 35 patients (56.5%) had atherosclerotic plaques (intima-media thickness >/=1.3 mm). Transesophageal echocardiography characterized ascending aortic intimal morphology as normal in 1 patient (1.6%), as thickening in 22 patients (35.5%), and as atherosclerotic plaques in 39 patients (62.9%). Patients with both carotid and aortic plaques were older compared with patients without plaques; also, a higher percentage of patients with carotid and aortic plaques suffered from hypertension and diabetes mellitus compared with patients without plaques (P:<0.001). The incidence of carotid plaques was 74.3% (29 of 39 patients) in the subgroup with aortic plaques; there was a stepwise increase in the percentage of patients with carotid plaques among the patients with increasing grades of aortic atherosclerosis. Furthermore, the incidence of ascending aortic plaques was 82.8% (29 of 35 patients) in the subgroup with carotid plaques. Regression analysis revealed that age and carotid plaques were independently related to the presence of aortic plaques. In the entire study population, the presence of carotid plaques had a high positive predictive value (83%), an acceptable sensitivity (75%) and specificity (74%), and a relatively low negative predictive value (63%) for the presence of aortic plaques.

CONCLUSIONS: In cardiac patients without clinical evidence of atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease, a high prevalence of combined aortic and carotid plaques were detected. The presence of carotid plaque reflects the presence of aortic plaque, whereas the absence of carotid plaque may not reflect the absence of aortic plaque.

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