Aortic arch and intra-/extracranial cerebral arterial atherosclerosis in patients suffering acute ischemic strokes

Yi Guo, Xin Jiang, Shi Chen, Shaowen Zhang, Hongwen Zhao, Ying Wu
Chinese Medical Journal 2003, 116 (12): 1840-4

OBJECTIVE: To determine the distribution of aortic arch and intra/extracranial cerebral arterial atherosclerosis in Chinese patients who had suffered acute ischemic strokes.

METHODS: Eighty-nine patients with acute ischemic strokes were included in this study. Transesophageal echocardiography (TEE) was used to evaluate potential sources of embolisms in the aortic arch and in the heart; duplex ultrasound was used for the carotid artery; and intracranial Doppler (TCD) imaging was used for the middle cerebral artery (MCA), anterior cerebral artery (ACA), posterior cerebral artery (PCA), and basilar artery (BA). An atherosclerotic lesion in the aortic arch was defined as normal (0); mild plaque (1); moderate plaque (2); and protruding plaque or mobile plaque (3). A lesion in the carotid artery was considered a plaque if the maximal carotid plaque thickness was 1.2 mm. TCD results were deemed abnormal if flow velocity was either greater or lower than normal, and, in the case of the MCA, if an asymmetry index above 21% was measured.

RESULTS: Of the 89 patients, 52 (58.43%) patients showed evidence of aortic arch atherosclerosis (AAA), including 11 (12.36%) patients graded mild, 18 (20.22%) patients graded moderate, and 23 (25.84%) patients graded severe. Of the 23 patients with severe AAA, AAA was determined to be an important potential embolic source in 14 patients. Forty-nine (50.56%) patients had carotid arterial plaques (CAPs). The incidence of carotid plaques was higher among patients with AAA than among patients without AAA (71.15% vs 21.62%, OR = 3.291, 95% CI = 1.740 - 6.225, P < 0.001). TCD abnormalities affecting the MCA were found in 54 (60.67%) patients. Differences in incidence of TCD abnormalities between patients with AAA and without AAA (69.23% vs 48.65%) were not significant (OR = 1.423, 95% CI = 0.976 - 2.076, P = 0.05). There was a higher incidence of AAA in older, male patients with a history of diabetes and smoking.

CONCLUSIONS: AAA is an important potential source of cerebral embolic strokes. The presence of carotid arterial plaques correlates with AAA incidence. Most of carotid artery lesion were plaques other than severe stenosis, it may be the character of carotid atherosclerosis of stroke patients. It appears that atherosclerosis does not mainly occur in the intracranial arteries in stroke patients as thought before. Aged, male, diabetes, and smoking are important risk factors to the AAA.

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