Prevention of Carotid Artery Atherosclerosis: What is the Evidence?
Carotid artery atherosclerosis (CAA) represents a significant form of atherosclerosis with stroke as a major consequence. Whether it is a unique form of atherosclerosis is not established. However, this is not of major clinical relevance as no specific preventive measures over and above the established ones for cardiovascular risk are well established. Major risk factors for CAA are elevated low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL-C), diabetes mellitus, tobacco use, hypertension, and increased inflammation. Identification of CAA prior to a clinical event centers on imaging studies. Studies with magnetic resonance imaging result in the best definition of CAA plaque morphology. Medical measures that result in prevention are especially centered on statins (marked reduction of the LDL-C) and hypertension control. Nonprocedural therapeutic measures to avoid and delay complications involve antiplatelet medications. Benefits from other measures such as increasing high-density lipoprotein cholesterol and increased exercise appear desirable but require more clinical evidence. In conclusion, there are enough evidence-based medicine results to demand intensive medical preventive measures and not just relegate the patient with asymptomatic or symptomatic CAA to decision-making only involving the surgeon and interventionalist.