The diagnostic evaluation of coronary artery disease is undergoing a dramatic transformation with a new focus on atherosclerotic plaque. This review details the evidence needed for effective risk stratification and targeted preventive care based on recent advances in automated measurement of atherosclerosis from coronary computed tomography angiography (CTA). To date, research findings support that automated stenosis measurement is reasonably accurate, but evidence on variability by location, artery size, or image quality is unknown. The evidence for quantification of atherosclerotic plaque is unfolding, with strong concordance reported between coronary CTA and intravascular ultrasound measurement of total plaque volume (r >0.90). Statistical variance is higher for smaller plaque volumes. Limited data are available on how technical or patient-specific factors result in measurement variability by compositional subgroups. Coronary artery dimensions vary by age, sex, heart size, coronary dominance, and race and ethnicity. Accordingly, quantification programs excluding smaller arteries affect accuracy for women, patients with diabetes, and other patient subsets. Evidence is unfolding that quantification of atherosclerotic plaque is useful to enhance risk prediction, yet more evidence is required to define high-risk patients across varied populations and to determine whether such information is incremental to risk factors or currently used coronary computed tomography techniques (eg, coronary artery calcium scoring or visual assessment of plaque burden or stenosis). In summary, there is promise for the utility of coronary CTA quantification of atherosclerosis, especially if it can lead to targeted and more intensive cardiovascular prevention, notably for those patients with nonobstructive coronary artery disease and high-risk plaque features. The new quantification techniques available to imagers must not only provide sufficient added value to improve patient care, but also add minimal and reasonable cost to alleviate the financial burden on our patients and the health care system.
- plaque quantification