Vascular ultrasound for atherosclerosis imaging

C. de Korte, H. Hansen and A. van der Steen



Cardiovascular disease is a leading cause of death in the Western world. Therefore, detection and quantification of atherosclerotic disease is of paramount importance to monitor treatment and possible prevention of acute events. Vascular ultrasound is an excellent technique to assess the geometry of vessel walls and plaques. The high temporal as well as spatial resolution allows quantification of luminal area and plaque size and volume. While carotid arteries can be imaged non-invasively, scanning of coronary arteries requires invasive intravascular catheters. Both techniques have already demonstrated their clinical applicability. Using linear array technology, detection of disease as well as monitoring of pharmaceutical treatment in carotid arteries are feasible. Data acquired with intravascular ultrasound catheters have proved to be especially beneficial in understanding the development of atherosclerotic disease in coronary arteries. With the introduction of vascular elastography not only the geometry of plaques but also the risk for rupture of plaques might be identified. These so-called vulnerable plaques are frequently not flow-limiting and rupture of these plaques is responsible for the majority of cerebral and cardiac ischaemic events. Intravascular ultrasound elastography studies have demonstrated a high correlation between high strain and vulnerable plaque features, both ex vivo and in vivo. Additionally, pharmaceutical intervention could be monitored using this technique. Non-invasive vascular elastography has recently been developed for carotid applications by using compound scanning. Validation and initial clinical evaluation is currently being performed. Since abundance of vasa vasorum (VV) is correlated with vulnerable plaque development, quantification of VV might be a unique tool to even prevent this from happening. Using ultrasound contrast agents, it has been demonstrated that VV can be identified and quantified. Although far from routine clinical application, non-invasive and intravascular ultrasound VV imaging might pave the road to prevent atherosclerotic disease in an early phase. This paper reviews the conventional vascular ultrasound techniques as well as vascular ultrasound strain and vascular ultrasound VV imaging.

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