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Finite element analysis of vulnerable atherosclerotic plaques: a comparison of mechanical stresses within carotid plaques of acute and recently symptomatic patients with carotid artery disease
  1. Umar Sadat1,2,
  2. Zhi-Yong Li1,
  3. Victoria E Young1,
  4. Martin J Graves1,
  5. Jonathan R Boyle2,
  6. Elizabeth A Warburton3,
  7. Kevin Varty2,
  8. Eoin O'Brien3,
  9. Jonathan H Gillard1
  1. 1University Department of Radiology, Addenbrooke's Hospital, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK
  2. 2Cambridge Vascular Unit, Addenbrooke's Hospital, Cambridge, UK
  3. 3Department of Stroke Medicine, Addenbrooke's Hospital, Cambridge, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr Zhi-Yong Li, Box 218, University Department of Radiology, Addenbrooke's Hospital, Cambridge CB2 0QQ, UK; zyl22{at}


Objectives There is considerable evidence that patients with carotid artery stenosis treated immediately after the ischaemic cerebrovascular event have a better clinical outcome than those who have delayed treatment. Biomechanical assessment of carotid plaques using high-resolution MRI can help examine the relationship between the timing of carotid plaque symptomology and maximum simulated plaque stress concentration.

Methods Fifty patients underwent high-resolution multisequence in vivo MRI of their carotid arteries. Patients with acute symptoms (n=25) underwent MRI within 72 h of the onset of ischaemic cerebrovascular symptoms, whereas recently symptomatic patients (n=25) underwent MRI from 2 to 6 weeks after the onset of symptoms. Stress analysis was performed based on the geometry derived from in vivo MRI of the symptomatic carotid artery at the point of maximum stenosis. The peak stresses within the plaques of the two groups were compared.

Results Patient demographics were comparable for both groups. All the patients in the recently symptomatic group had severe carotid stenosis in contrast to patients with acute symptoms who had predominantly mild to moderate carotid stenosis. The simulated maximum stresses in patients with acute symptoms was significantly higher than in recently symptomatic patients (median (IQR): 313×104 dynes/cm2 (295 to 382) vs 252×104 dynes/cm2 (236 to 311), p=0.02).

Conclusions Patients have extremely unstable, high-risk plaques, with high stresses, immediately after an acute cerebrovascular event, even at lower degrees of carotid stenoses. Biomechanical stress analysis may help us refine our risk-stratification criteria for the management of patients with carotid artery disease in future.

  • Mechanical stress
  • atherosclerosis
  • transient ischaemic attack
  • carotid stenosis
  • stroke
  • cerebrovascular disease
  • MRI
  • neurosurgery
  • vascular surgery

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  • Funding US is funded by clinical research training fellowship of Medical Research Council (UK) and Royal College of Surgeons of England. This project was also supported by a grant from the NIHR Biomedical Research Centre.

  • Competing interests None.

  • Patient consent Obtained.

  • Ethics approval Ethics approval was provided by the Cambridgeshire Research and Ethics Committee.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.