Embolic Signals in Unselected Stroke Patients: Prevalence and Diagnostic Benefit

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Background and Purpose—

The present study investigated the prevalence of cerebral microemboli detected by transcranial Doppler sonography in unselected stroke and transient ischemic attack (TIA) patients under standard clinical conditions. We aimed to evaluate the feasibility and the value of the method for clinical use.


The records of 937 consecutive patients who were investigated between October 1995 and August 2004 at our institution were reviewed. Stroke or TIA were subtyped using the TOAST classification criteria.


Two hundred and eighty-four subjects were excluded because there was an interval of >14 days between onset of symptoms and examination, no definite diagnosis of stroke or TIA at discharge, or an artificial heart valve. Embolic signals (ES) were detected in 37 (5.7%) of the remaining 653 patients. In subjects with positive ES detection the mean interval between symptom onset and ES detection was 4.9 (SD 4.0) days compared with 5.4 (SD 3.5) days in the remaining patients (P=0.01). ES were more common in patients with large-artery atherosclerosis compared with other subtype groups (P<0.001). The proportion of detected signals was influenced by the antihemostatic treatment: ES were found more often in anticoagulated patients than in patients receiving antiplatelet medication (P<0.001).


The study shows a high clinical significance of ES in patients with recent stroke attributable to arterio-arterial embolism or of cardiac embolic origin and the high specificity of the technique. Given the low sensitivity shown, ES detection cannot generally be recommended for routine diagnostics in stroke patients.

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