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Screening for Carotid Artery Stenosis

U.S. Preventive Services Task Force

Release Date: December 2007

Summary of Recommendations / Supporting Documents

Summary of Recommendations

  • The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommends against screening for asymptomatic carotid artery stenosis (CAS) in the general adult population. (This is a grade "D" recommendation)


Importance. Good evidence indicates that although stroke is a leading cause of death and disability in the United States, a relatively small proportion of all disabling, unheralded strokes is due to CAS.

Detection. The most feasible screening test for severe CAS (for example, 60% to 99% stenosis) is duplex ultrasonography. Good evidence indicates that this test has moderate sensitivity and specificity and yields many false-positive results. A positive result on duplex ultrasonography is often confirmed by digital subtraction angiography, which is more accurate but can cause serious adverse events. Noninvasive confirmatory tests, such as magnetic resonance angiography, involve some inaccuracy. Given these facts, some people with false-positive test results may receive unnecessary invasive carotid endarterectomy surgery.

Benefits of Detection and Early Intervention. Good evidence indicates that in selected, high-risk trial participants with asymptomatic severe CAS, carotid endarterectomy by selected surgeons reduces the 5-year absolute incidence of all strokes or perioperative death by approximately 5%. These benefits would be less among asymptomatic people in the general population. For the general primary care population, the benefits are judged to be no greater than small.

Harms of Detection and Early Intervention. Good evidence indicates that both the testing strategy and the treatment with carotid endarterectomy can cause harms. A testing strategy that includes angiography will itself cause some strokes. A testing strategy that does not include angiography will cause some strokes by leading to carotid endarterectomy in people who do not have severe CAS. In excellent centers, carotid endarterectomy is associated with a 30-day stroke or mortality rate of about 3%; some areas have higher rates. These harms are judged to be no less than small.

USPSTF Assessment. The USPSTF concludes that for individuals with asymptomatic CAS there is moderate certainty that the benefits of screening do not outweigh the harms ("D" recommendation).

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Supporting Documents

Recommendation Statement (PDF File, 330 KB; PDF Help)
Supporting Article (PDF File, 285 KB; PDF Help)
Clinical Summary (PDF File, 240 KB; PDF Help)
Report of the Evidence (PDF File, 700 KB; PDF Help)

Update on Methods: Estimating Certainty and Net Benefit (PDF File, 200 KB; PDF Help)

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Current as of December 2007

Internet Citation:

Screening for Carotid Artery Stenosis, Topic Page. December 2007. U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Rockville, MD.


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