BACKGROUND: Traditional risk assessment tools classify the majority of middle-aged women at low risk despite cardiovascular (CV) disease's affecting >50% of women and remaining the leading cause of death. Ultrasound-determined carotid intima-media thickness (CIMT) and/or computed tomographic coronary artery calcium score (CACS) quantify subclinical atherosclerosis and add incremental prognostic value. The aim of this study was to assess the utility of CIMT and CACS to detect subclinical atherosclerosis in younger women.
METHODS: Asymptomatic women aged 50 to 65 years with at least one CV risk factor and low Framingham risk scores were identified prospectively at primary care and cardiology clinics. Mean intimal thickness, plaque on CIMT, and Agatston calcium score for CACS were obtained.
RESULTS: Of 86 women (mean age, 58 ± 4.6 years; mean Framingham risk score, 1.9 ± 1.2; mean low-density lipoprotein cholesterol level, 138.9 ± 37.0 mg/dL), 53 (62%) had high-risk CIMT (51% plaque, 11% CIMT > 75th percentile). In contrast, three women (3.5%) had CACS > 100, all of whom had plaque by CIMT. Of the 58 women with CACS of 0, 32 (55%) had high-risk CIMT (48% plaque, 7% CIMT > 75th percentile).
CONCLUSIONS: In patients referred by their physicians for assessment of CV risk, CIMT in asymptomatic middle-aged women with at least one CV risk factor and low risk by the Framingham risk score identified a large number with advanced subclinical atherosclerosis despite low CACS. Our results suggest that CIMT may be a more sensitive method for CV risk assessment than CACS or traditional risk tools in this population. Further studies are needed to determine if earlier detection would be of clinical benefit.
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