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Objective : It has been suggested that non-invasive aortic stiffness measurements can be used as an indicator of atherosclerosis. The relationships of arterial stiffness with arterial wall hypertrophy and atherosclerosis however, have rarely been investigated in large-scale studies. The present study reports the associations of carotid arterial structure assessed by B-mode ultrasound with carotid-femoral pulse-wave velocity in hypertensive and non-hypertensive subjects.

Design and methods : Free health examinations were performed on 564 subjects (age 58.2 /- 10.8 years, 31.9% of women, 53.2% of all were hypertensive). Carotid-femoral pulse-wave velocity (PWV) was used to assess aortic stiffness. Carotid ultrasound examination included measurements (at sites free of plaques) of intima-media thickness (IMT) at the common carotid arteries (CCA), CCA-lumen diameter, and assessment of atherosclerotic plaques in the extracranial carotid arteries.

Results : Subjects with carotid plaques had significantly higher mean sex-adjusted values of PWV than those without carotid plaques (12.7 /- 0.2 versus 11.1 /- 0.1 m/s, P < 0.001). Multivariate analyses showed that this association was independent of sex, age, height, body mass index, mean blood pressure, pulse pressure, diabetes, hypercholesterolaemia and smoking habits (P < 0.009). PWV was positively associated with CCA-IMT and CCA-lumen diameter in sex-adjusted analysis (partial correlation coefficients (r) were respectively 0.39 and 0.42, P < 0.001 for each). However, the association of PWV with CCA-IMT, but not that with CCA-lumen diameter, disappeared after further adjustment for age and blood pressure measurements (mean blood pressure and/or pulse pressure).

Conclusion : This study shows that there is a differential association of PWV with CCA-IMT and carotid plaques. The nature of the independent positive association between atherosclerosis and arterial stiffness should be thoroughly investigated.

(C) 2002 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.