It is unclear whether the carotid intima–media thickness can be influenced by antihypertensive treatment and whether some antihypertensive agents, such as calcium antagonists, may have a greater effect on this parameter than others, such as diuretics. The present paper reports the principal results of the ultrasound substudy of the randomized, prospective, controlled, Verapamil in Hypertension and Atherosclerosis Study (VHAS).Design and methods
In 498 hypertensive patients in eight Italian centres, randomized to either verapamil (240 mg once a day) or chlorthalidone (25 mg once a day), a B-mode ultrasound scan was performed according to a standardized procedure at baseline and after 3, 12, 24, 36 and 48 months of treatment. The maximum intima–media thicknesses of the far walls of common, bifurcation and internal carotid arteries were measured bilaterally, and the following indices calculated: the mean thickness at the six measured sites, the mean thickness at the common and bifurcation sites and the single maximum thickness. The primary endpoint for treatment efficacy was the slope of the change over 4 years (rate of change, mm/year), corrected by using the initial mean over the six sites (baseline + 3 months) as a covariate (mm/year per mm). The patients were also classified into three strata according to their baseline single maximum thickness: those with normal carotid arteries (single maximum (1 mm), those with thickened carotid arteries (single maximum >1 and ≤ 1.5 mm and those with carotid plaques (single maximum >1.5 mm).Results
Among the 456 patients with satisfactory baseline ultrasound readings, 33% were classified with normal carotid arteries, 27% with thickened carotid arteries and 40% with plaques. In the intention-to-treat population (377 patients with ultrasound measurements taken on at least three different occasions over a period of at least 2 years), the rate of change in the mean thickness at the six sites measured was rather small (0.015 mm/year), but significantly (P < 0.05) smaller in patients with plaques (0.003 mm/year) than in patients with thickened or with normal carotids (0.023 and 0.025 mm/year, respectively). When related to initial values, the rate of change in the mean thickness at the six sites had a negative slope (−0.059 mm/year per mm, P < 0.01). Although rates of change in the carotid intima–media thickness in unstratified patients were not different in those treated with verapamil or with chlorthalidone, when changes in the mean thickness of six sites were related to the initial value, the slope of this relationship was significantly different in the two treatment groups (verapamil −0.082 versus chlorthalidone −0.037 mm/year per mm, P < 0.02). The blood pressure-lowering effect of the two randomized treatments was similar. Taking fatal and nonfatal, major and minor cardiovascular events together, there were 19 events in the verapamil group and 35 in the chlorthalidone group, with a significantly (P < 0.01) greater incidence in patients with plaques, and among patients with plaques in those who were randomized to chlorthalidone (P < 0.05).Conclusions
In accord with evidence from animal models of atherosclerosis, the calcium antagonist verapamil was more effective than the diuretic chlorthalidone in promoting regression of thicker carotid lesions. Changes in the carotid intima–media thickness were small in both groups, and the differences between the changes under the two treatments were consequently small, but the observation that these small differences in carotid wall changes were paralleled by differences in the incidence of cardiovascular events (better intima–media thickness regression with verapamil paralleled by a lower cardiovascular event rate) suggests that even small effects on carotid plaques may have clinical and prognostic relevance.