Assessment of subclinical atherosclerosis and intraplaque neovascularization using quantitative contrast-enhanced ultrasound in patients with familial hypercholesterolemia

Stijn C H van den Oord, Zeynettin Akkus, Jeanine E Roeters van Lennep, Johan G Bosch, Antonius F W van der Steen, Eric J G Sijbrands, Arend F L Schinkel
Atherosclerosis 2013, 231 (1): 107-13

OBJECTIVE: Patients with heterozygous familial hypercholesterolemia (FH) are at severely increased risk of developing atherosclerosis at relatively young age. The aim of this study was to assess the prevalence of subclinical atherosclerosis and intraplaque neovascularization (IPN) in patients with FH, using contrast-enhanced ultrasound (CEUS) of the carotid arteries.

METHODS: The study population consisted of 69 consecutive asymptomatic patients with FH (48% women, mean age 55 ± 8 years). All patients underwent carotid ultrasound to evaluate the presence and severity of carotid atherosclerosis, and CEUS to assess IPN. IPN was assessed in near wall plaques using a semi-quantitative grading scale and semi-automated quantification software.

RESULTS: Carotid plaque was present in 62 patients (90%). A total of 49 patients had plaques that were eligible for the assessment of IPN: 7 patients (14%) had no IPN, 39 (80%) had mild to moderate IPN and 3 (6%) had severe IPN. Semi-automated quantification software showed no statistical significant difference in the amount of IPN between patients > 50 years and patients ≤ 50 years and between patients with a defective low-density lipoprotein receptor (LDLR) mutation and patients with a negative LDLR mutation. Plaques with irregular or ulcerated surface had significantly more IPN than plaques with a smooth surface (p < 0.05).

CONCLUSION: Carotid ultrasound demonstrated atherosclerotic plaque in 90% of asymptomatic patients with FH without known atherosclerosis. IPN assessed with CEUS, was present in 86% of these patients. Irregular and ulcerated plaques exhibited significantly more IPN than plaques with a smooth surface.

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