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Identifying the Vulnerable Patient with Rupture-Prone Plaque

The American Journal of Cardiology
Publication Date
DOI: 10.1016/j.amjcard.2008.04.013
  • Biology
  • Medicine


Atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of morbidity and mortality in the United States, and the obesity epidemic combined with aging of the population seems destined to increase the burden of this disease. Traditional cardiovascular risk assessment accounts for <50% of the variability in risk in the United States. Therefore, better and more effective identification of persons at high cardiovascular risk is needed. Our understanding of atherosclerosis has shifted from a focal disease whose hallmark is symptoms caused by a severe stenosis to a systemic disease characterized by endothelial dysfunction (ED) and plaque inflammation, with the potential for rupture and thrombosis mainly in those with subcritical stenosis. Under the new paradigm, clinicians require updated strategies to better assess the quality of arterial plaque. Effective tools for primary and secondary prevention of heart attack and stroke include intensive lifestyle modification, blood pressure reduction, and lipid-modifying therapies. These interventions are now understood to decrease plaque inflammation and thereby promote plaque stability. Lipoprotein-associated phospholipase A 2 (Lp-PLA 2) appears to be a specific marker of plaque inflammation that may play a direct role in the formation of rupture-prone plaque. In contrast, traditional risk factors, lipid measurement, and most vascular imaging modalities do not directly assess the acute ischemic potential in the arterial wall. Measuring Lp-PLA 2 levels in human serum or plasma is noninvasive and relatively inexpensive. Lp-PLA 2 may provide additional clinically relevant information that shows which patients have a high level of atherosclerotic disease activity as manifested by vascular inflammation, ED, and increased risk for progression toward rupture-prone plaque.

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