Purpose of Review: Extracranial or intracranial large artery atherosclerosis is often identified as a potential etiologic cause for ischemic stroke and transient ischemic attack. Given the high prevalence of large artery atherosclerosis in the general population, determining whether an identified atherosclerotic lesion is truly the cause of a patient’s symptomatology can be difficult. In all cases, optimally treating each patient to minimize future stroke risk is paramount. Extracranial or intracranial large artery atherosclerosis can be broadly compartmentalized into four distinct clinical scenarios based upon the individual patient’s history, examination, and anatomic imaging findings: asymptomatic and symptomatic extracranial carotid stenosis, intracranial atherosclerosis, and extracranial vertebral artery atherosclerotic disease. This review provides a framework for clinicians evaluating and treating such patients.
Recent Findings: Intensive medical therapy achieves low rates of stroke and death in asymptomatic carotid stenosis. Evidence indicates that patients with severe symptomatic carotid stenosis should undergo carotid revascularization sooner rather than later and that the risk of stroke or death is lower using carotid endarterectomy than with carotid stenting. Specific to stenting, the risk of stroke or death is greatest among older patients and women. Continuous vascular risk factor optimization via sustained behavioral modifications and intensive medical therapy is the mainstay for stroke prevention in the setting of intracranial and vertebral artery origin atherosclerosis.
Summary: Lifelong vascular risk factor optimization via sustained behavioral modifications and intensive medical therapy are the key elements to reduce future stroke risk in the setting of large artery atherosclerosis. When considering a revascularization procedure for carotid stenosis, patient demographics, comorbidities, and the periprocedural risks of stroke and death should be carefully considered.
Address correspondence to Dr John Cole, Maryland Stroke Center, University of Maryland School of Medicine, 655 W Baltimore St, Room 12–006, Baltimore, MD 21201, email@example.com.
Relationship Disclosure: Dr Cole receives research/grant support from the American Heart Association (15GPSPG23770000) and the National Institutes of Health (1U01NS069208), which partially funded the writing of this article.
Unlabeled Use of Products/Investigational Use Disclosure: Dr Cole reports no disclosure.