Symptomatic Carotid Occlusion Is Frequently Associated With Microembolization

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Background and Purpose—

Symptomatic carotid artery disease is associated with significant morbidity and mortality. The pathophysiologic mechanisms of cerebral ischemia among patients with carotid occlusion remain underexplored.


We conducted a prospective observational cohort study of patients hospitalized within 7 days of ischemic stroke or transient ischemic attack because of ≥50% carotid artery stenosis or occlusion. Transcranial Doppler emboli detection was performed in the middle cerebral artery ipsilateral to the symptomatic carotid. We describe the prevalence of microembolic signals (MES), characterize infarct topography, and report clinical outcomes at 90 days.


Forty-seven patients, 19 with carotid occlusion and 28 with carotid stenosis, had complete transcranial Doppler recordings and were included in the final analysis. MES were present in 38%. There was no difference in MES between those with carotid occlusion (7/19, 37%) compared with stenosis (11/28, 39%; P=0.87). In patients with radiographic evidence of infarction (n=39), 38% had a watershed pattern of infarction, 41% had a nonwatershed pattern, and 21% had a combination. MES were present in 40% of patients with a watershed pattern of infarction. Recurrent cerebral ischemia occurred in 9 patients (19%; 6 with transient ischemic attack, 3 with ischemic stroke). There was no difference in the rate of recurrence in those with compared to those without MES.


Cerebral embolization plays an important role in the pathophysiology of ischemia in both carotid occlusion and stenosis, even among patients with watershed infarcts. The role of aggressive antithrombotic and antiplatelet therapy for symptomatic carotid occlusions may warrant further investigation given our findings.

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