Cognitive impairment and decline are associated with carotid artery disease in patients without clinically evident cerebrovascular disease

S Claiborne Johnston, Ellen S O'Meara, Teri A Manolio, David Lefkowitz, Daniel H O'Leary, Steven Goldstein, Michelle C Carlson, Linda P Fried, W T Longstreth
Annals of Internal Medicine 2004 February 17, 140 (4): 237-47

BACKGROUND: Whether carotid artery disease is a cause of cognitive impairment in persons who have not had stroke is unknown. If this is the case, diminished performance on the Modified Mini-Mental State Examination should be more common in persons with left carotid artery disease than in those with right carotid artery disease.

OBJECTIVE: To determine whether left carotid artery disease is associated with cognitive impairment.

DESIGN: Cross-sectional and cohort study.

SETTING: Four U.S. communities participating in the Cardiovascular Health Study.

PATIENTS: 4006 right-handed men and women 65 years of age or older without history of stroke, transient ischemic attack, or carotid endarterectomy.

MEASUREMENTS: Internal carotid artery stenosis and intima-media thickness of the common carotid artery were assessed by using duplex ultrasonography. Cognitive impairment was defined as a score less than 80 on the Modified Mini-Mental State Examination, and cognitive decline was defined as an average decrease of more than 1 point annually in Modified Mini-Mental State Examination score during up to 5 years of follow-up. Multivariate logistic regression models were used to estimate the risk for cognitive impairment and decline associated with left internal carotid artery stenosis and intima-media thickness, after adjustment for measures of right-sided disease and risk factors for vascular disease.

RESULTS: After adjustment for right-sided stenosis, high-grade (> or =75% narrowing of diameter) stenosis of the left internal carotid artery (32 patients) was associated with cognitive impairment (odds ratio, 6.7 [95% CI, 2.4 to 18.1] compared with no stenosis) and cognitive decline (odds ratio, 2.6 [CI, 1.1 to 6.3]). Intima-media thickness of the left common carotid artery was associated with cognitive impairment and decline in univariate analysis, but this effect did not persist after adjustment.

CONCLUSIONS: Cognitive impairment and decline are associated with asymptomatic high-grade stenosis of the left internal carotid artery. The persistence of the association after adjustment for right-sided stenosis indicates that the association is not due to underlying vascular risk factors or atherosclerosis in general.

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