Background: Carotid artery stenosis is one of the major causes of ischemic strokes. However, degree of stenosis is not always correlated with frequency of ischemic strokes. Recently, it was reported that carotid intraplaque hemorrhage (IPH) was associated with accelerated plaque growth, luminal narrowing and development of symptomatic events. Maximum intensity projection (MIP) images are easily reformatted within from 5 minute, routine time-of-flight (TOF) sequences. The aim of this study was to evaluate the relationships between high intensity signal (HIS) in the carotid plaques on MIP images detected by routine three-dimensional TOF magnetic resonance angiography (3D-TOF MRA) and ischemic strokes.
Materials and Methods: One hundred fifty two patients with low-grade carotid artery stenosis (North American Symptomatic Carotid Endarterectomy Trial criteria: 30% - 49%) were included. IPH was defined as the presence of HIS in the carotid plaques on MIP images of 3D-TOF MRA using the previously reported criteria. We analyzed the relationship between the presence of HIS in the plaques and prior ischemic strokes defined as ischemic lesions on diffusion weighed images of the brain.
Results: HIS in the carotid plaque was present in 56 (37%) of 152 carotid arteries. Prior ipsilateral ischemic strokes were observed more frequently in HIS-positive group (12 of 56, 21.4%) than HIS-negative group (1 of 34: 2.9%) [p<0.001]. In multivariate logistic regression analysis, HIS (Odds ratio: 77.7, 95%CI: 6.4 - 944.0, p<0.001) and diabetes mellitus type 2 (odds ratio: 10.45, 95%CI: 1.6 - 67.9, p=0.014) were independent determinants of prior ischemic strokes after adjustment for age.
Conclusions: HIS in the carotid plaques on MIP images of 3D-TOF MRA was an independent determinant of prior ischemic stroke in patients with low-grade carotid artery stenosis, and this finding may provide a reliable risk stratification of future stroke in patients with low-grade carotid artery stenosis.