Primary Cardiovascular Disease Prevention: Risk Factors Control vs. Imaging Subclinical Atherosclerosis

Federico Vancheri, Pompilio Faggiano, Michael Y Henein


The burden of cardiovascular disease in developed countries has shown dramatic improvements over the last 50 years, largely due the identification and control of major risk factors including, smoking hypertension and high cholesterol.   However, due to the significant increase in obesity and diabetes CVD incidence rates will not reduce as far over over the next years. Risk prediction in asymptomatic individuals remains a major challenge. Primary preventive treatment is currently based on the assessment of individual’s global risk mainly through screening of conventional risk factors and their treatment with lifestyle intervention and pharmacotherapy, often based on multivariate risk equations, and yet  a large proportion of CVD still occurs in individuals who are classified as carrying low- or intermediate-risk according to the risk scores. Atherosclerosis is the most common pathophysiologic process underlying CVD, often after a prolonged asymptomatic phase during which it may be possible to modify the course of the disease. Unlike conventional probabilistic risk scores, non-invasive imaging techniques such as carotid intima-media thickness (CIMT) along with plaque assessment (Figure 2), measured by B-mode ultrasound, and coronary calcium scoring (CAC) detected by CT scan have the advantage of direct visualization of the consequences of atherosclerosis on the arterial system. We consider the proposal that imaging of subclinical atherosclerosis is superior to risk equations as it directly identifies the disease and can effectively predict the risk of future CV events in low- and intermediate-risk individuals. In addition, imaging can improve the adherence to guidelines based treatment in patients and their physicians.


Atherosclerosis, cardiovascular disease, risk factors, cardiovascular imaging

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