Atherosclerotic Plaque in the Left Carotid Artery Is More Vulnerable Than in the Right
Background and Purpose—Ischemic stroke is more often diagnosed in the left hemisphere than in the right. It is unknown whether this asymmetrical prevalence relates to differences in carotid atherosclerosis. We compared atherosclerotic plaque prevalence, severity, and composition between left and right carotid arteries.
Methods—In a population-based cohort, carotid MRI scanning was performed in 1414 stroke-free participants (≥45 years). Using a multisequence MRI protocol, we assessed the prevalence, stenosis, and thickness of the plaque and its predominant component (ie, lipid core, intraplaque hemorrhage, calcification, or fibrous tissue in each carotid artery). Differences between left and right side were tested using paired t tests, McNemar test and Generalized Estimating Equation analyses.
Results—The majority (85%) of the participants had bilateral carotid plaques. Unilateral plaques were twice more prevalent on the left than on the right side (67% versus 33%; P<0.001). Plaque thickness was also greater on the left (3.1±1.2 versus 2.9±1.3 mm; P<0.001); degree of stenosis did not differ. Intraplaque hemorrhage and fibrous tissue were more prevalent on the left (9.1 versus 5.9%; P<0.001 and 45.0 versus 38.5%; P<0.001), whereas calcification occurred more often on the right (37.4 versus 31.6% at the left; P<0.001). Lipid was equally distributed.
Conclusions—Carotid atherosclerotic plaque size and composition are not symmetrically distributed. Predominance of intraplaque hemorrhage in left-sided carotid plaques suggests a greater vulnerability as opposed to right-sided plaques, which are more calcified and therefore considered more stable.
- Received February 16, 2014.
- Revision received August 15, 2014.
- Accepted August 19, 2014.
- © 2014 American Heart Association, Inc.