Ultrasound-detected carotid plaque as a predictor of cardiovascular events.
Ultrasound detection of carotid plaque can be performed with equipment that is available in many clinical settings and can identify patients at increased risk of cardiovascular (CV) disease. We reviewed the literature to determine the CV risk factors associated with the presence of carotid plaque and whether its presence is associated with the presence and extent of coronary artery disease. A MEDLINE search subsequently was performed to determine whether carotid plaque burden predicts future CV events. Studies that had more than 300 subjects and reported hazard ratios or relative risk estimates for CV events, or data from which these values could be calculated, were included. References from identified studies also were examined for inclusion in the review. Nine studies met these criteria. Although there was not a uniform definition of carotid plaque, eight studies found that the presence of carotid plaque predicted incident CV death and/or myocardial infarction. In several studies, this relationship persisted after adjustments for risk factors. Ultrasound detection of carotid plaque is a straightforward, inexpensive, and safe tool that has the potential to be used in an office setting to help clarify a patient's CV risk.