Relationship of carotid distensibility and thoracic aorta calcification: Multi-ethnic study of atherosclerosis

Michael J. Blaha, Matthew J. Budoff, Juan J. Rivera, Ronit Katz, Daniel H. O'Leary, Joseph F. Polak, Junichiro Takasu, Roger S. Blumenthal, Khurram Nasir

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Stiffening of the central elastic arteries is one of the earliest detectable manifestations of adverse change within the vessel wall. Although an association between carotid artery stiffness and adverse events has been demonstrated, little is known about the relationship between stiffness and atherosclerosis. Even less is known about the impact of age, sex, and race on this association. To elucidate this question, we used baseline data from the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis (2000-2002). Carotid artery distensibility coefficient was calculated after visualization of the instantaneous waveform of the common carotid diameter using a high-resolution B-mode ultrasound. Thoracic aorta calcification was identified using noncontrast cardiac computed tomography. We found a strong association between decreasing distensibility coefficient (increasing carotid stiffness) and increasing thoracic aorta calcification, as well as a graded increase in the thoracic aorta calcification score (P<0.001). After controlling for age, sex, race, and traditional and emerging cardiovascular risk factors, individuals in the stiffest quartile had a prevalence ratio of 1.52 (95% CI: 1.15 to 2.00) for thoracic aorta calcification compared with the least stiff quartile. In exploratory analysis, carotid stiffness was more highly correlated with calcification of the aorta than calcification of the coronary arteries (ρ=0.32 versus 0.22; P<0.001 for comparison). In conclusion, there is a strong independent association between carotid stiffness and thoracic aorta calcification. Carotid stiffness is more highly correlated with calcification of the aorta, a central elastic artery, than calcification of the coronary arteries. The prognostic significance of these findings requires longitudinal follow-up of the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis cohort.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1408-1415
Number of pages8
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 1 2009



  • Carotid compliance
  • Carotid stiffness
  • Coronary calcification
  • Subclinical atherosclerosis
  • Thoracic aorta calcification

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Internal Medicine

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