Current status of carotid ultrasound in atherosclerosis

Stella Sin Yee Ho


Cardiovascular disease (CVD) primarily caused by atherosclerosis is a major cause of death and disability in developed countries. Sonographic carotid intima-media thickness (CIMT) is widely studied as a surrogate marker for detecting subclinical atherosclerosis for risk prediction and disease progress to guide medical intervention. However, there is no standardized CIMT measurement methodology in clinical studies resulting in inconsistent findings, thereby undermining the clinical value of CIMT. Increasing evidences show that CIMT alone has weak predictive value for CVD while CIMT including plaque presence consistently improves the predictive power. Quantification of plaque burden further enhances the predictive power beyond plaque presence. Sonographic carotid plaque characteristics have been found to be predictive of cerebral ischaemic events. With advances in ultrasound technology, enhanced assessment of carotid plaques is feasible to detect high-risk/vulnerable plaques, and provide risk assessment for ischemic stroke beyond measurement of luminal stenosis.