An association between systemic inflammatory markers and the presence and severity of atherosclerotic plaques has not been demonstrated in a nonselected population. The purpose of this study was to examine the association of inflammatory markers with aortic atherosclerotic plaques in a sample of the general population and in a subgroup free of clinical vascular disease.
Transesophageal echocardiography was performed in 386 subjects (median age, 66 years; 53% men). We examined the association between systemic inflammatory markers and aortic atherosclerotic plaques.
Aortic plaques were present in 267 subjects (69%). Plaques at least 4 and 6 mm thick and mobile debris were present in 114, 41, and 20 subjects, respectively. High-sensitivity C-reactive protein (hs-CRP) level was associated with the presence of aortic plaques, adjusting for age, sex, smoking status, and additional atherosclerosis risk factors. Among subjects with plaques, hs-CRP level was independently associated with plaques at least 6 mm thick; similar trends were observed for the associations of hs-CRP level with plaques at least 4 mm thick and mobile debris. In subjects with aortic plaques who were free of clinically apparent coronary artery or cerebrovascular disease, hs-CRP level was independently associated with plaques at least 6 mm thick.
Level of hs-CRP is independently associated with the presence and severity of aortic atherosclerotic plaques. These observations establish the association of systemic inflammation with anatomically defined atherosclerosis in the general population.