Cardiovascular risk factors and cervical carotid plaque features on CT angiography

John C. Benson, Valentina Nardi, Christopher H. Hunt, Amir Lerman, Giuseppe Lanzino, Waleed Brinjikji

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Little is known about the impact that cardiovascular (CV) risk factors have on the formation of various carotid atherosclerotic plaque features. This study set out to assess the association between CV risk factors and plaque characteristics on computed tomography (CT) angiography (CTA). Materials and methods: A retrospective review was completed of consecutive patients that underwent a carotid endarterectomy and had CTA imaging of the head and neck vasculature. Atherosclerotic plaques of both carotid arteries were evaluated for calcification(s), low-density plaque (LDP) components, ulceration(s), and degree of stenosis. Various clinical CV risk factors were assessed using medical records. Last recorded laboratory levels were dichotomized into categories: total cholesterol <200 or ≥200 mg/dL, low-density lipoprotein (LDL) <130 or ≥130 mg/dL, high-density lipoprotein <35 or ≥35 mg/dL, and triglyceride <200 or ≥200 mg/dL. Results: Of 97 included patients, 62 were male (63.9%); the average age was 72.7 (standard deviation = 9.5). Calcifications were in 95/97 (97.9%) of patients (one or both carotid plaques); LDP components were in 73/97 (75.3%), and ulcerations were in 21/97 (21.6%). Elevated total cholesterol and elevated LDL levels were both associated with a higher likelihood of LDP components (p = 0.004 and p = 0.02, respectively). There were no other statistically significant associations between individual plaque features or severity of arterial stenosis and CV risk factors. Conclusion: In carotid atherosclerotic plaques, LDP components are more frequently present in one or both carotid arteries in patients with elevated total cholesterol and/or LDL levels. Such findings raise the possibility that cholesterol levels may be directly related to the formation of specific high-risk plaque features.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)346-351
Number of pages6
JournalNeuroradiology Journal
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 2022


  • CTA
  • Carotid
  • cardiovascular
  • plaque

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Radiology Nuclear Medicine and imaging
  • Clinical Neurology


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