Mobile atheroma of the aortic arch and the risk of carotid artery disease

F R Arko, S Fritcher, M Mettauer, D E Patterson, C J Buckley, L G Manning
American Journal of Surgery 1999, 178 (3): 206-8

BACKGROUND: Mobile atheromas of the aortic arch are associated with otherwise unexplained strokes and transient ischemic attacks (TIA). They are associated with increased perioperative strokes in patients undergoing coronary artery bypass surgery. Peripheral embolization is an additional risk. Transesophageal echocardiography (TEE) accurately identifies mobile atheroma. Anticoagulant therapy may have therapeutic considerations in the management of this condition. However, the risk of significant carotid artery disease associated with mobile atheromas is unknown.

METHODS: Between March 1994 and July 1998, 40 patients with mobile atheromas by TEE and evidence of embolization were studied. All patients were captured prospectively in a vascular registry and were retrospectively reviewed. Carotid artery disease was evaluated using carotid duplex imaging in an accredited vascular laboratory. All patients with significant carotid disease, 70% or greater stenosis, underwent arteriography. Patients with significant carotid artery stenosis then underwent carotid endarterectomy. All patients with mobile atheromas were maintained on anticoagulation.

RESULTS: Forty patients with mobile atheromas of the aortic arch were diagnosed with TEE. All 40 patients had evidence of embolization. Patient age ranged from 57 to 73 years (mean 68.4). There were 22 men and 18 women. Twenty of 40 (50%) patients presented with symptoms of TIA. Eleven of 40 (28%) patients presented with diffuse atheroembolization (lower extremity embolization and renal insufficiency). Six of 40 (15%) patients presented with a completed stroke. Three of 20 (7%) patients presented with acute extremity ischemia secondary to a peripheral embolus. Twenty-three of 40 (58%) of patients had significant carotid artery stenosis, 70% or greater stenosis. These 23 patients underwent both arteriography and carotid endarterectomy without complication. All patients were treated with anticoagulation and have remained anticoagulated. Clinical follow-up between 2 to 48 months (mean 18) has demonstrated no further evidence of systemic embolization in these 40 patients. Repeat TEE was performed in 6 of 40 patients. These follow-up studies no longer visualized mobile atheromas.

CONCLUSIONS: Mobile atheromas are recognized sources for embolization. Routine carotid duplex imaging should be performed in patients found to have mobile atheromas of the aortic arch. Carotid endarterectomy appears to be safe in patients who have combined carotid artery stenosis and mobile atheromas. Anticoagulation may have therapeutic considerations in the management of this condition.

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