Patients with a history of ischemic stroke are at risk for a second ischemic stroke. This study aimed to investigate the relationship between carotid plaque enhancement on perfluorobutane microbubble contrast-enhanced ultrasonography (CEUS) and future recurrent stroke, and to determine whether plaque enhancement can contribute to risk assessment for recurrent stroke compared with the Essen Stroke Risk Score (ESRS).
This prospective study screened 151 patients with recent ischemic stroke and carotid atherosclerotic plaques at our hospital between August 2020 and December 2020. A total of 149 eligible patients underwent carotid CEUS, and 130 patients who were followed up for 15-27 months or until stroke recurrence were analyzed. Plaque enhancement on CEUS was investigated as a possible risk factor for stroke recurrence and as a possible adjunct to ESRS.
During follow-up, 25 patients (19.2%) experienced recurrent stroke. Patients with plaque enhancement on CEUS had an increased risk of stroke recurrence events (22/73, 30.1%) compared to those without plaque enhancement (3/57, 5.3%), with an adjusted hazard ratio (HR) of 38.264 (95% confidence interval [CI]:14.975-97.767; < 0.001) according to a multivariable Cox proportional hazards model analysis, indicating that the presence of carotid plaque enhancement was a significant independent predictor of recurrent stroke. When plaque enhancement was added to the ESRS, the HR for stroke recurrence in the high-risk group compared to that in the low-risk group (2.188; 95% CI, 0.025-3.388) was greater than that of the ESRS alone (1.706; 95% CI, 0.810-9.014). A net of 32.0% of the recurrence group was reclassified upward appropriately by the addition of plaque enhancement to the ESRS.
Carotid plaque enhancement was a significant and independent predictor of stroke recurrence in patients with ischemic stroke. Furthermore, the addition of plaque enhancement improved the risk stratification capability of the ESRS.

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