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Objective

There is a recognized need to improve selection of patients with carotid artery stenosis for carotid endarterectomy (CEA). We assessed the value of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)-defined carotid plaque hemorrhage (MRIPH) to predict recurrent ipsilateral cerebral ischemic events, and stroke in symptomatic carotid stenosis.

Methods

One hundred seventy-nine symptomatic patients with ≥50% stenosis were prospectively recruited, underwent carotid MRI, and were clinically followed up until CEA, death, or ischemic event. MRIPH was diagnosed if the plaque signal intensity was >150% that of the adjacent muscle. Event-free survival analysis was done using Kaplan–Meier plots and Cox regression models controlling for known vascular risk factors. We also undertook a meta-analysis of reported data on MRIPH and recurrent events.

Results

One hundred fourteen patients (63.7%) showed MRIPH, suffering 92% (57 of 62) of all recurrent ipsilateral events and all but 1 (25 of 26) future strokes. Patients without MRIPH had an estimated annual absolute stroke risk of only 0.6%. Cox multivariate regression analysis proved MRIPH as a strong predictor of recurrent ischemic events (hazard ratio [HR] = 12.0, 95% confidence interval [CI] = 4.8–30.1, p < 0.001) and stroke alone (HR = 35.0, 95% CI = 4.7–261.6, p = 0.001). Meta-analysis of published data confirmed this association between MRIPH and recurrent cerebral ischemic events in symptomatic carotid artery stenosis (odds ratio = 12.2, 95% CI = 5.5–27.1, p < 0.00001).

Interpretation

MRIPH independently and strongly predicts recurrent ipsilateral ischemic events, and stroke alone, in symptomatic ≥50% carotid artery stenosis. The very low stroke risk in patients without MRIPH puts into question current risk–benefit assessment for CEA in this subgroup. ANN NEUROL 2013;73:774–784