Differentiating Carotid Free-Floating Thrombus From Atheromatous Plaque Using Intraluminal Filling Defect Length on CTA: A Validation Study


To validate a previously proposed filling defect length threshold of >3.8 mm on CT angiography (CTA) to discriminate between free-floating thrombus (FFT) and plaque of atheroma.


This was a prospective multicenter observational study of 100 participants presenting with TIA/stroke symptoms and a carotid intraluminal filling defect on initial CTA. Follow-up CTA was obtained within 1 week and at weeks 2 and 4 if the intraluminal filling defect was unchanged in length. Resolution or decreased length was diagnostic of FFT, whereas its static appearance after 4 weeks was indicative of plaque. Diagnostic accuracy of FFT length was assessed by receiver operating characteristic analysis.


Ninety-five participants (mean [SD] age 68 [13] years, 61 men, 83 participants with FFT, 12 participants with a plaque) were evaluated. The >3.8-mm threshold had a sensitivity of 88% (73 of 83) (95% confidence interval [CI] 78%–94%) and specificity of 83% (10 of 12) (95% CI 51%–97%) (area under the curve 0.91, p 3.64 mm with a sensitivity of 89% (74 of 83) (95% CI 80%–95%) and specificity of 83% (10 of 12) (95% CI 51%–97%). Adjusted logistic regression showed that every 1-mm increase in intraluminal filling defect length is associated with an increase in odds of FFT of 4.6 (95% CI 1.9–11.1, p = 0.01).


CTA enables accurate differentiation of FFT vs plaque using craniocaudal length thresholds.

Trial Registration Information

ClinicalTrials.gov Identifier: NCT02405845.

Classification of Evidence

This study provides Class I evidence that in patients with TIA/stroke symptoms, the presence of CTA-identified filling defects of lengths >3.8 mm accurately discriminates FFT from atheromatous plaque.

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