JOURNAL ARTICLE

Carotid artery plaque progression and cognitive decline: the Tromsø Study 1994-2008

K A Arntzen, H Schirmer, S H Johnsen, T Wilsgaard, E B Mathiesen
European Journal of Neurology 2012, 19 (10): 1318-24
22537454

BACKGROUND: Carotid atherosclerosis is a risk factor for stroke and cognitive decline, but knowledge on how progression of carotid atherosclerosis affects cognitive function in stroke-free individuals is scarce.

METHODS: In the population-based Tromsø study, we calculated the change in ultrasound-assessed carotid plaque number and total plaque area from baseline (survey 4) to follow-up 7 years later (survey 5) in 4274 middle-aged stroke-free subjects. Cognitive function was assessed at follow-up by the verbal memory test, the digit-symbol coding test, and the tapping test and repeated after an additional 6 years in a subgroup of 2042 subjects (survey 6). Associations between the average of survey 4 and survey 5 plaque scores and the progression of plaque scores and cognitive test scores were assessed in regression analyses adjusted for baseline age, sex, education, depression, and cardiovascular risk factors.

RESULTS: Progression of total plaque area was associated with lower scores in the digit-symbol coding test (multivariable adjusted standardized β, -0.03; 95% CI, -0.05 to -0.00; P = 0.04) and the tapping test (β, -0.03; 95% CI, -0.06 to -0.00; P = 0.03). Similar results were seen for progression of plaque number. The average plaque scores were associated with lower scores in all cognitive tests (P-values ≤ 0.01). No association was found between plaque scores and cognitive decline.

CONCLUSIONS: The average plaque scores were associated with lower scores in all cognitive tests. Progression of plaque scores was associated with lower scores in the digit-symbol coding test and the tapping test, but not with the verbal memory test or with cognitive decline.

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