Selected papers from the Editorial Board| Volume 91, P1-9, April 2023

The Natural History of Carotid Artery Occlusions Diagnosed on Duplex Ultrasound

Published:December 24, 2022DOI:


      There is a paucity of literature on the natural history of extracranial carotid artery occlusion (CAO). This study reviews the natural history of this patient cohort.


      This single-institution retrospective analysis studied patients with CAO diagnosed by duplex ultrasound between 2010 and 2021. Patients were identified by searching our office-based Intersocietal Accreditation Commission accredited vascular laboratory database. Imaging and clinical data were obtained via our institutional electronic medical record. Outcomes of interest included ipsilateral stroke, attributable neurologic symptoms, and ipsilateral intervention after diagnosis.


      The full duplex database consisted of 5,523 patients who underwent carotid artery duplex examination during the study period. The CAO cohort consisted of 139 patients; incidence of CAO was 2.5%. Mean age at diagnosis was 69.7 years; 31.4% were female. Hypertension (72.7%), hyperlipidemia (64.7%), and prior smoking (43.9%) were the most common comorbid conditions. Of the CAO cohort, 61.3% (n = 85) of patients were asymptomatic at diagnosis; 38.8% (n = 54) were diagnosed after a stroke or transient ischemic attack occurring within 6 months prior to diagnosis, with 21.6% occurring ipsilateral to the CAO and 10.1% occurring contralateral to the CAO. 7.2% (n = 10) had unclear symptoms or laterality at presentation. Of the CAO cohort, 95 patients (68.3%) had duplex imaging follow-up (mean 42.7 ± 31.3 months). Of those with follow-up studies, 7 patients (5.0%) developed subsequent stroke ipsilateral to the CAO with mean occurrence 27.8 ± 39.0 months postdiagnosis. In addition, 5 patients (3.6%) developed other related symptoms, including global hypoperfusion (2.4%) and transient ischemic attack (1.2%). Of those, 95 patients with follow-up duplex ultrasound imaging, 6 (4.3%) underwent eventual ipsilateral intervention, including carotid endarterectomy (n = 4), transfemoral carotid artery stent (n = 1), and carotid bypass (n = 1), with mean occurrence 17.7 ± 23.7 months postdiagnosis. The aggregate rate of ipsilateral cerebrovascular accident, attributable neurologic symptoms, or ipsilateral intervention was 11.5%. Of 95 patients with follow-up duplex ultrasound imaging, 5 underwent subsequent duplex studies demonstrating ipsilateral patency, resulting in a 5.3% discrepancy rate between sequential duplex studies. All 6 patients undergoing intervention received periprocedural cross-sectional imaging (magnetic resonance angiography or computed tomography angiography). In 5 of these 6 patients, cross-sectional demonstrated severe stenosis rather than CAO, disputing prior duplex ultrasound findings.


      In this large, institutional cohort of patients with a CAO diagnosis on duplex ultrasound, a clinically meaningful subset of patients experienced cerebrovascular accident, related symptoms, or intervention. We also found a notable rate of temporal duplex discrepancies among patients with CAO diagnoses and discrepancies between CAO diagnosis per duplex ultrasound and findings on cross-sectional imaging for those patients who underwent intervention. These results suggest that use of a single duplex ultrasound as a sole diagnostic tool in CAO may not be sufficient and that physicians should consider close duplex ultrasound surveillance of these patients, potentially in conjunction with additional confirmatory imaging modalities. Further investigation into optimal workup and surveillance protocols for CAO is needed.
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