2021 Volume 28 Issue 5 Pages 435-453
Atherosclerosis comprises two components, atherosis and sclerosis, characterized by morphological wall thickening and functional stiffening, respectively, of the arterial wall. In recent years, much interest has been directed to the role of functional changes in large arteries, i.e., increased stiffness or decreased elasticity, on the development of cardiovascular diseases. In fact, the clinical evaluation of arterial stiffness is increasingly performed in patients with cardiovascular risk factors. Local arterial stiffness is measured using an ultrasound technique implemented with an echo-tracking system at the common carotid and femoral arteries. Several indices of local arterial stiffness are obtained by ultrasound, among which stiffness parameter β is unique because it is the least affected by blood pressure at the time of measurement. Evidence from cross-sectional studies indicates that increased stiffness parameter β is associated with a number of cardiovascular risk factors, such as older age, smoking, insufficient physical activity, hypertension, obesity, metabolic syndrome, insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, chronic kidney disease, and comorbid cardiovascular disease. Results from several prospective observational studies also suggest that carotid stiffness parameter β is a useful surrogate marker of cardiovascular events and/or mortality, although the results differ depending on the characteristics of the study subjects. Furthermore, several interventional studies have shown that carotid stiffness parameter β improved after lifestyle modification or drug treatment. In this review, we summarize the current evidence of stiffness parameter β of the carotid artery and discuss its clinical implications as a marker of vascular health or as a predictor of cardiovascular outcomes.