Endothelial dysfunction, believed to underlie the structural changes of atherosclerosis, is a systemic phenomenon. Despite this, the radial artery has been considered as devoid of atherosclerosis and is commonly used as a conduit in coronary artery bypass grafting (CABG). Recently, histological study has shown intimal hyperplasia and other structural changes consistent with early atherosclerosis in the radial artery. The objective of the present study was to determine if structural changes in the radial artery could be detected invivo in patients with coronary atherosclerosis. Using high resolution echo-tracking, measurements of radial artery internal diameter, wall thickness and wall cross-sectional area were made in 25 patients awaiting CABG and in 20 controls. Digital and brachial blood pressures were also recorded. Mean arterial pressures did not differ between the patient and control groups. All measures of wall thickness were greater in the patient than the control group. Neither current arterial pressures nor past history of hypertension correlated with wall thickness. Using a model of analysis of covariance, coronary artery disease was the best single predictor of intima-media thickness, R2 = 48%, n = 44, P< 0.0005. We concluded that increased radial artery wall thickness can be demonstrated invivo in patients with coronary atherosclerosis. This is a novel observation which seems to be independent of blood pressure, and is consistent both with the hypothesis of systemic endothelial dysfunction leading to systemic structural changes and also to the recent histological evidence for atherosclerotic changes in this vessel.

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