Background. Disruption of an atherosclerotic plaque in a coronary artery followed by the formation of a thrombus is believed to be the cause of both unstable angina and acute myocardial infarction. Although thrombolytic therapy is efficacious in patients with acute myocardial infarction, for unknown reasons it is far less effective in patients with unstable angina. We postulated that there might be differences in the composition of the coronary-artery thrombi in unstable angina and acute myocardial infarction.Methods. To investigate the appearance of coronary-artery thrombi, we performed percutaneous transluminal coronary angioscopy in 15 patients with unstable angina and 16 with acute myocardial infarction.Results. Angioscopy was performed within 48 hours after an episode of pain at rest in the patients with unstable angina and within 8 hours of onset in those with acute myocardial infarction. Angioscopy revealed coronary thrombi in all but two patients (one in each group). Of the 29 patients with thrombi, those with unstable angina were frequently observed to have grayish-white thrombi (10 of 14, 71 percent), but none were seen in the 15 patients with acute myocardial infarction (P<0.01). By contrast, reddish thrombi were observed in all 15 patients with acute myocardial infarction who had thrombi, but in only 4 of the 14 patients with unstable angina and thrombi (P<0.01). As assessed by coronary angiography, occlusive thrombi occurred frequently in patients with acute myocardial infarction (13 of 16 patients) but were not seen in any of the 15 patients with unstable angina (P<0.01).Conclusions. Coronary-artery thrombi play an important part in the pathogenesis of unstable angina and acute myocardial infarction. However, the appearance of the thrombi is different in the two conditions, possibly reflecting differences in the composition or age of the thrombi or the presence or absence of blood flow in the artery. This difference may account for the contrasting results of thrombolytic therapy. (N Engl J Med 1992;326: 287–91.).
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