Asymptomatic carotid artery stenosis: Time to rethink our therapeutic options?
Asymptomatic carotid artery stenosis is a well-recognized risk factor for ischemic stroke, and its prevalence increases with age. In the late 1980s and in the 1990s, well-designed randomized trials established a definite advantage for carotid endarterectomy in reducing the risk of ipsilateral stroke when compared with medical therapy alone. However, medical treatment of cardiovascular disease has improved significantly over the past 2 decades, and this has, in turn, resulted in a decline of the stroke risk in patients with asymptomatic carotid artery stenosis treated medically. This improvement in medical therapy casts doubts on the effectiveness of large-scale invasive treatment in patients with asymptomatic carotid artery stenosis. Several studies have been conducted to identify possible subgroups of patients with asymptomatic stenosis who are at higher risk of stroke in order to maximize the potential benefits of invasive treatment. Ongoing large-scale trials comparing best current medical therapy to available invasive treatments, such as carotid endarterectomy and carotid artery stenting, are likely to shed some light on this debated topic in the near future. In this review, the authors summarize the current controversy surrounding the ideal management of asymptomatic carotid artery stenosis.
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