Ruptured atheromatous plaques were identified by step-sectioning technique as responsible for 40 of 51 recent coronary artery thrombi and 63 larger intimal haemorrhages. The degree of pre-existing luminal narrowing at the site of rupture was decisive for whether plaque rupture caused occlusive thrombosis or just intimal haemorrhage. If the pre-existing stenosis was greater than 90% (histologically determined) then plaque rupture nearly always caused occlusive thrombosis. Clearly indicating the primary role of plaque rupture in thrombus formation were the frequent finding of plaque fragments deeply buried in the centre of the thrombus and the nature of the thrombus at the site of rupture where it consisted predominantly of platelets. Thus, a severe chronic stenosis seems to be a prerequisite for occlusive thrombus formation, but the thrombotic process itself is triggered by an acute intimal lesion.
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