The role of non-stenosing carotid artery plaques in embolic stroke of undetermined source, is it a silent offender? A review of literature

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Interv Neuroradiol


Purpose: Atherosclerotic cervical internal carotid artery disease is one of the major causes of ischemic stroke and transient ischemic attacks. The risk of stroke from mild to moderate stenoses (i.e. <50% stenosis) might be underestimated. There is increasing evidence that plaque morphological features reflect plaque instability that may harbor high risk for embolization. In this narrative review, we will review the literature on plaque features that predict vulnerability beyond the degree of stenosis, discuss the clinical association with stroke, and evaluate the evidence that these lesions serve as a source for embolic stroke of unknown source (ESUS). Methods: We performed a literature search using PubMed, EMBASE, and Web of Science. The terms “embolic stroke of undetermined source” and “plaque morphology” were used either alone or in combination with “non-flow limiting stenosis,” “non-stenosing plaques,” “high-risk plaque features” or “internal carotid artery plaque.” Data on plaque morphology and ESUS were mainly taken from review articles, observational studies including retrospective cohort and cross-sectional studies, meta-analyses, and systematic reviews. Conclusion: Nonstenosing carotid artery plaques with high-risk features carry a remarkable risk for stroke occurrence and randomized clinical trials are warranted for further evaluation of using carotid artery stenting or carotid endarterectomy to mitigate the risk of stroke.

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ePub ahead of print