The mechanisms underlying macrovascular complications in NIDDM are partially understood. In addition to increased prevalence and severity of systemic cardiovascular risk factors, local alterations of arterial wall and hemodynamics may play a role. Atherosclerotic lesions usually lie in regions of low wall shear stress. We therefore investigated the wall shear stress--that is, the frictional force acting tangentially to the endothelial surface--in the common carotid artery of diabetic and control subjects. Enrolled were 18 male NIDDM subjects and 18 age-matched control subjects. None of the participants were hypertensive, hyperlipidemic, or a cigarette smoker. Common carotid wall shear stress was calculated according to the following equation: blood viscosity x blood velocity/internal diameter. Blood viscosity was measured by use of a cone/plate viscometer. Blood velocity and internal diameter were measured by high-resolution echo-Doppler. Wall shear stress was significantly lower in NIDDM subjects than in control subjects (mean wall shear stress: 9.7 +/- 2.4 vs. 11.7 +/- 2.6 dynes/cm2, P < or = 0.005). Six diabetic participants had a plaque in one carotid tree and no lesions in the contralateral carotid. Among these subjects, mean wall shear stress was significantly lower in the side with lesion (8.1 +/- 1.6 vs. 10.5 +/- 2.4 dynes/cm2, P < or = 0.02). These findings suggest that diabetes is associated with a more atherosclerosis-prone carotid hemodynamic profile, which might represent an additional factor contributing to the increased prevalence and severity of carotid atherosclerosis in diabetic patients compared with general population.

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