Carotid atherosclerosis, silent ischemic brain damage and brain atrophy: A systematic review and meta-analysis

Francesco Moroni, Enrico Ammirati, Marco Magnoni, Fabrizio D'Ascenzo, Matteo Anselmino, Nicoletta Anzalone, Maria Assunta Rocca, Andrea Falini, Massimo Filippi, Paolo G. Camici

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background The widespread use of brain imaging has led to increased recognition of subclinical brain abnormalities, including white matter hyperintensities (WMH) and silent brain infarctions (SBI), which have a vascular origin, and have been associated to a high risk of stroke, disability and dementia. Carotid atherosclerosis (CA) may be causative in the development of WMH, SBI and eventually brain atrophy. Aim of the present systematic review and meta-analysis was to assess the existing evidence linking CA to WMH, SBI and brain atrophy. Methods The relation between CA and WMH, SBI and brain atrophy was investigated through the systematic search of online databases up to September 2015 and manual searching of references and related citations. Pooled estimates were calculated by random-effects model, using restricted maximum likelihood method with inverse variance weighting method. Results Of the 3536 records identified, fifteen were included in the systematic review and 9 were found to be eligible for the meta-analysis. CA was significantly associated with the presence of WMH (Odds Ratio, OR 1.42, confidence interval, CI 1.22–1.66, p < 0.0001) and of SBI (OR 1.89, CI 1.46–2.45, p < 0.0001). No meta-analysis could be performed for the relation between CA and brain atrophy due to the lack of suitable studies. Conclusions CA was found to be associated to WMH and SBI. While no causative association can be inferred from the available data, the presence of carotid plaque may be considered a significant risk factor for subclinical cerebral damage.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)681-687
Number of pages7
JournalInternational Journal of Cardiology
Publication statusPublished - Nov 15 2016


  • Brain atrophy
  • Carotid atherosclerosis
  • Leukoaraiosis
  • Meta-analysis
  • Silent brain infarction

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine(all)
  • Cardiology and Cardiovascular Medicine


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