Coding Code Description CPT

0126T Common carotid intima-media thickness (IMT) study for evaluation of atherosclerotic burden or coronary heart disease risk factor assessment

93895 Quantitative carotid intima media thickness and carotid atheroma evaluation, bilateral


Atherosclerosis is a condition in which plaque builds up on artery walls. Plaque is made up of fat, cholesterol, and other substances in the blood. Over time, the plaque hardens. This hardening causes the arteries to narrow. Narrowed arteries means less blood can flow to organs like the heart and brain. There are a number of well proven tests that doctors use to diagnose atherosclerosis. A newer test uses sound waves (ultrasound) to look at the two innermost layers of the carotid artery. (The carotid arteries are on both sides of the neck.) The goal of this ultrasound test is to try to see if plaque is building up in arteries before other tests are able identify it. Medical studies have found that this type of ultrasound test is uncertain in trying to predict who will develop atherosclerosis. Also, there are no studies showing how this testing leads to better health results compared to standard testing. For these reasons, ultrasound testing to try to identify atherosclerosis is considered investigational.

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Policy Coverage Criteria Service Investigational

Ultrasonographic measurement of carotid artery intima-medial thickness (CIMT)

Ultrasonographic measurement of carotid artery intima-medial thickness (CIMT) as a technique for identifying subclinical atherosclerosis is considered investigational for use in the screening, diagnosis, or management of atherosclerotic disease.

Evidence Review Description

Ultrasonographic measurement of carotid intima-medial (or intimal-media) thickness (CIMT) refers to the use of B-mode ultrasound to determine the thickness of the two innermost layers  thickening, which is a surrogate marker for atherosclerosis, may provide an opportunity to intervene earlier in atherogenic disease and/or monitor disease progression.


Coronary Heart Disease

Coronary heart disease (CHD) accounts for 30.8% of all deaths in the United States.1 Established major risk factors for CHD have been identified by the National Cholesterol Education Program Expert Panel. These risk factors include elevated serum levels of low-density lipoprotein cholesterol, total cholesterol, and reduced levels of high-density lipoprotein cholesterol. Other risk factors include a history of cigarette smoking, hypertension, family history of premature CHD, and age.


The third report of the National Cholesterol Education Program Adult Treatment Panel established various treatment strategies to modify the risk of CHD, with emphasis on target goals of low-density lipoprotein cholesterol. Pathology studies have demonstrated that levels of traditional risk factors are associated with the extent and severity of atherosclerosis. The third report of the National Cholesterol Education Program Adult Treatment Panel recommended use of the Framingham criteria to further stratify those patients with 2 or more risk factors for more intensive lipid management.2 However, at every level of risk factor exposure, there is substantial variation in the amount of atherosclerosis, presumably related to genetic susceptibility and the influence of other risk factors. Thus, there has been interest in identifying a technique that can improve the ability to diagnose those at risk of developing CHD, as well as to measure disease progression, particularly for those at intermediate risk.

The carotid arteries can be well visualized by ultrasonography, and ultrasonographic measurement of the carotid artery intima-medial thickness has been investigated as a technique to identify and monitor subclinical atherosclerosis. B-mode ultrasound is most commonly used to measure carotid intima-media thickness. The intima-medial thickness (IMT) is measured and averaged over several sites in each carotid artery. Imaging of the far wall of each common carotid artery yields more accurate and reproducible IMT measurements than imaging of the near wall. Two echogenic lines are produced, representing the lumen-intima interface and the media-adventitia interface. The distance between these two lines constitutes the IMT.

Summary of Evidence

For individuals who are undergoing cardiac risk assessment who receive ultrasonic measurement of carotid intima-media thickness (CIMT), the evidence includes large cohort studies, casecontrol studies, and systematic reviews. Relevant outcomes are test accuracy and morbid events.

Some studies have correlated increased CIMT with other commonly used markers for risk of coronary heart disease (CHD) and with risk for future cardiovascular events. A meta-analysis of individual patient data by Lorenz et al (2012) found that CIMT was associated with increased cardiovascular events although CIMT progression over time was not associated with increased cardiovascular event risk. In a systematic review by Peters et al (2012), the added predictive value of CIMT was modest, and the ability to reclassify patients into clinically relevant categories was not demonstrated. The results from these reviews and other studies have demonstrated the predictive value of CIMT is uncertain, and that the predictive ability for any level of population risk cannot be determined with precision. Also, available studies do not define how the use of CIMT in clinical practice improves outcomes. There is no scientific literature that directly tests the hypothesis that measurement of CIMT results in improved patient outcomes and no specific guidance on how measurements of CIMT should be incorporated into risk assessment and risk management. The evidence is insufficient to determine the effects of the technology on health outcomes.