• In April 1981, a total of 297 carotid arteries were examined prospectively. All patients were asymptomatic and were referred to the peripheral vascular laboratory at Good Samaritan Medical Center, Phoenix, for real-time B-mode ultrasonography. A measurement of luminal area stenosis was determined to be either greater or less than 75%. In addition, the ultrasound echo pattern was used to classify plaque as either calcified, dense, or soft. If, for any reason, the patient or physician felt that carotid endarterectomy should be performed, the patient was dropped from the study. In addition, the use of antiplatelet medication or anticoagulants constituted disqualification. Three groups of patients were observed for three years or until symptoms became apparent. Patients in all three groups with stenosis greater than 75% at the time of initial study were at greater risk than their peers without significant narrowing; however, even those patients with less than 75% stenosis were at greater risk if the associated plaque was less organized, ie, soft. A definite trend toward higher risk is seen in plaques of lower density. Only 10% of those patients with calcified plaque and a significantly stenotic vessel have developed symptoms. In contrast, only three patients of the original 42 with soft plaque and a tight stenosis are still being observed. This study appears to confirm that soft plaques have a greater tendency toward subintimal hemorrhage, ulceration, or primary embolization than more well-organized plaques.
(Arch Surg 1985;120:1010-1012)