Accurate assessment of wall shear stress (WSS) is vital for studies on the pathogenesis of atherosclerosis. WSS distributions can be obtained by computational fluid dynamics (CFD) using patient-specific geometries and flow measurements. If patient-specific flow measurements are unavailable, in- and outflow have to be estimated, for instance by using Murray’s Law. It is currently unknown to what extent this law holds for carotid bifurcations, especially in cases where stenoses are involved. We performed flow measurements in the carotid bifurcation using phase-contrast MRI in patients with varying degrees of stenosis. An empirical relation between outflow and degree of area stenosis was determined and the outflow measurements were compared to estimations based on Murray’s Law. Furthermore, the influence of outflow conditions on the WSS distribution was studied.
For bifurcations with an area stenosis smaller than 65%, the outflow ratio of the internal carotid artery (ICA) to the common carotid artery (CCA) was 0.62±0.12 while the outflow ratio of the external carotid artery (ECA) was 0.35±0.13. If the area stenosis was larger than 65%, the flow to the ICA decreased linearly to zero at 100% area stenosis. The empirical relation fitted the flow data well (R2=0.69), whereas Murray’s Law overestimated the flow to the ICA substantially for larger stenosis, resulting in an overestimation of the WSS. If patient-specific flow measurements of the carotid bifurcation are unavailable, estimation of the outflow ratio by the presented empirical relation will result in a good approximation of calculated WSS using CFD.