Analysis of the relationship between the inner structure and the magnitude of atherosclerotic plaques.
Intravascular ultrasound uses a high-frequency, miniaturized, ultrasound transducer positioned on the tip of a coronary catheter to provide detailed cross-sectional images of the coronary vessel wall. Unlike angiography, which details only luminal encroachment, this imaging technique has the unique potential to provide an image of the atherosclerotic plaque, characterize its composition, and assess stenosis severity. Lipid-filled "soft" plaque, dense fibrous "hard" plaque, calcification, and thrombosis have all been identified on intravascular ultrasound images. Individual lesion types have been associated with specific clinical ischemic syndromes and with different responses to catheter-based intervention. By means of analyzing tissue composition, intravascular ultrasound may permit identification of high-risk lesions that may eventually rupture and cause unstable coronary ischemic syndromes. This article reviews the current approaches to plaque characterization by two-dimensional intravascular ultrasound imaging and addresses clinical implications, technical limitations, and future promise of the technique.