Carotid Intima-Media Thickness Testing as an Asymptomatic Cardiovascular Disease Identifier and Method for Making Therapeutic Decisions

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Amy L. Doneen, MSN, ARNP; Bradley F. Bale, MD

Table of Contents

Postgraduate Medicine:

Volume 125 No. 2

Category:

Clinical Features

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DOI: 10.3810/pgm.2013.03.2645
Abstract: Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is the leading cause of death and disability in the United States. Although current therapies can reduce the risk for CVD, they are only given to patients who are considered to be at risk, and are therefore only beneficial if a patient’s risk is accurately predicted before he or she sustains a cardiovascular (CV) event. Unfortunately, even relatively accurate risk factor analyses, such as the Reynolds Risk Score algorithm, fail to identify some patients who will sustain a CV event within 10 years. In contrast, the presence of an atheroma is an absolute predictor for the potential of an atherothrombotic event to occur, and it is therefore reasonable to anchor clinical decisions based on this knowledge. Carotid intima-media thickness (CIMT) testing via B-mode ultrasound is a safe, simple, and inexpensive method for evaluating CV risk by measuring the combined thickness of the intimal and medial layers of the arterial wall. Use of CIMT testing can also detect marked thickening of the arterial wall, possibly indicating plaques or atheromas that are associated with accelerated atherosclerotic disease and increased risk for coronary artery disease, myocardial infarction, and stroke. These characteristics make CIMT a practical supplemental method that physicians can use when making decisions. Moreover, the ability of CIMT testing to identify and quantify atherosclerotic disease has led to the adoption of CIMT as a surrogate endpoint in clinical trials, allowing the efficacy of new drugs to be assessed much more rapidly than would be possible by focusing solely on CV event or mortality rates. To date, several trials have provided evidence to indicate that some CVD therapies slow, stop, or reverse the progression of CIMT. Although many of these studies show that changes in CIMT predict future CV events, the value of CIMT testing in CVD risk assessment is still vigorously debated. In this article, we clarify the utility of CIMT testing for risk classification and reexamine its usefulness as a method for assessing therapeutic efficacy.

Keywords: atherosclerosis; carotid intima-media thickness; cardiovascular disease risk assessment; myocardial infarction; stroke