Carotid atherosclerosis and cerebral microbleeds: The Framingham Heart Study

José R. Romero, Sarah R. Preis, Alexa Beiser, Charles DeCarli, Ralph B. D'Agostino, Philip A. Wolf, Ramachandran S. Vasan, Joseph F. Polak, Sudha Seshadri

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

34 Scopus citations


Background: Carotid atherosclerosis is associated with subclinical ischemic cerebrovascular disease, but its role in hemorrhageprone small vessel disease-represented by cerebral microbleed (CMB)-is unclear, although vascular risk factors underlie both conditions. We hypothesized that persons with carotid atherosclerosis would have higher risk of CMB, particularly in deep regions. Methods and Results: We studied 1243 participants in the Framingham Offspring Study (aged 56.9±8.8 years; 53% women) with carotid ultrasound available on 2 occasions (1995-1998 and 2005-2008) prior to brain magnetic resonance imaging. Using multivariable logistic regression, we related baseline carotid stenosis, baseline intima-media thickness, and site-specific carotid intima-media thickness progression (at internal and common carotid locations) to the prevalence and location (lobar or deep plus mixed) of CMB. In addition, we assessed effect modification by lipid levels and use of statin and antithrombotic medications. Carotid stenosis ≥25% (a marker of cerebrovascular atherosclerosis) was associated with presence of CMB overall (Odds Ratio 2.20, 95% CI 1.10-4.40) and at deep and mixed locations (odds ratio 3.60, 95% CI 1.23-10.5). Baseline carotid intima-media thickness was not associated with CMB. Progression of common carotid artery intima-media thickness among persons on hypertension treatment was associated with lower risk of deep and mixed CMB (odds ratio per SD 0.41, 95% CI 0.18-0.96). Conclusions: Cumulative vascular risk factor exposure may increase the risk of CMB, especially in deep regions. The apparent paradoxical association of carotid intima-media thickness progression with lower risk of CMB may reflect benefits of intensive vascular risk factor treatment among persons with higher cardiovascular risk and deserves further investigation. If replicated, the results may have potential implications for assessment of preventive and therapeutic interventions for subclinical cerebral hemorrhage.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere002377
JournalJournal of the American Heart Association
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • Brain magnetic resonance imaging
  • Carotid atherosclerosis
  • Carotid intima-media thickness
  • Cerebral microbleeds

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cardiology and Cardiovascular Medicine


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