Vascular-related memory loss is a real symptom caused by carotid plaque blockages, although the memory decline may not be noticeable at first.
By measuring something called “plaque instability,” researchers at the University of Wisconsin, School of Medicine were able to identify plaque that was more likely to cause a stroke (unstable), versus plaque that was less likely (stable). During this research they also discovered that the instability of the plaque was related to changes in the brain connected to memory loss as well as small blockages that cause “silent strokes.”
The researchers conclude that plaque instability, even in classically asymptomatic patients, can indicate brain damage, sometimes subtle, and may be related the amount of plaque in the rest of the arteries in a person’s body.
The researchers will continue looking at instable plaque as a measurement and predictor for major stroke. In the meantime, they urge physicians to define stroke symptoms more broadly to include vascular dementia.
Dempsey RJ, Varghese T, et al. Carotid atherosclerotic plaque instability and cognition determined by ultrasound-measured plaque strain in asymptomatic patients with significant stenosis. Journal of Neurosurgery, March 10, 2017; 1-9.