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Intima-Media Thickness

Intima-media Thickness


Atherosclerosis causes progressive narrowing and hardening of blood vessels.  It is a major cause of coronary heart disease and cerebrovascular disease (or stroke).  Low-Density-Lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL-C) is a fat-containing particle in the blood circulation.  This particle, especially if oxidized, can be absorbed by cells of the blood vessel lining and cause inflammation.  The inflammation leads to the accumulation of white blood cells filled with fat droplets, and results in the progressive thickening of the blood vessel wall.  This series of events will eventually lead to blood vessel occlusion and organ damage due to insufficient blood supply.

One simple and non-invasive method to detect early atherosclerosis is an ultrasound assessment of the carotid intima-media thickness (IMT).  This is done by B-mode ultrasound which is very sensitive in measuring the thickness between various blood vessel layers.  There is now extensive evidence to show that carotid IMT reflects the health status of blood vessels elsewhere and that it correlates well with estimating future risk of stroke and heart attacks.

A useful feature of IMT is to allow at-risk individuals to clearly visualize the health status of their blood vessel wall so that they are more motivated to alter their unhealthy lifestyle.  In addition, many drugs can delay the rate of progressive thickening of IMT.  These drugs include cholesterol-lowering drugs, anti-diabetes drugs and anti-platelet drugs.  All these drugs have been shown to reduce cardiovascular event rates in high-risk subjects.