Background: Duplex ultrasonography is considered a valid measure of stenosis of the carotid arteries, but the prognostic value of repeated ultrasonographic examinations is unknown.
Objective: To determine the ability of serial ultrasonographic measurements to predict cerebrovascular events in patients with asymptomatic carotid disease.
Design: Secondary analysis of data from a natural history study of asymptomatic carotid disease.
Patients: Asymptomatic patients with cervical bruits.
Measurements: Duplex ultrasonography of the carotid arteries was done at study enrollment and biannually thereafter. Multivariable Cox proportional-hazards models with fixed and time-dependent covariates were used for analysis.
Results: 61 transient ischemic attacks (TIAs) and 38 strokes occurred in 715 participants over a mean follow-up period of 3.2 years; 4 strokes were disabling, and no deaths from stroke occurred. Sixty percent of strokes occurred in persons who did not have severe stenosis. One fifth of participants had stenosis progression. Baseline carotid stenosis was a significant predictor of the outcome “TIA or stroke” (relative risk, 1.5 [95% CI, 1.2 to 1.7]) and retained its predictive ability for more than 3 years. Progression of stenosis to 80% or more significantly increased the risk for cerebrovascular events and death. The sensitivity and positive predictive value of progression as an independent predictor of TIA or stroke were low.
Conclusion: Severe carotid stenosis is associated with a higher risk for cerebrovascular events, but the power of repeated ultrasonography to predict ischemic events is limited by low incidence rates and low rates of progression. The evidence does not support the routine use of serial ultrasonography to determine the risk for stroke in unselected patients with asymptomatic carotid disease.