Harrison's Neurology in Clinical Medicine, 3rd Edition


Wade S. Smith Image Joey D. English Image S. Claiborne Johnston

Cerebrovascular diseases include some of the most common and devastating disorders: ischemic stroke, hemorrhagic stroke, and cerebrovascular anomalies such as intracranial aneurysms and arteriovenous malformations (AVMs). They cause ~200,000 deaths each year in the United States and are a major cause of disability. The incidence of cerebrovascular diseases increases with age, and the number of strokes is projected to increase as the elderly population grows, with a doubling in stroke deaths in the United States by 2030. Most cerebrovascular diseases are manifest by the abrupt onset of a focal neurologic deficit, as if the patient was “struck by the hand of God.” A stroke, or cerebrovascular accident, is defined by this abrupt onset of a neurologic deficit that is attributable to a focal vascular cause. Thus, the definition of stroke is clinical, and laboratory studies including brain imaging are used to support the diagnosis. The clinical manifestations of stroke are highly variable because of the complex anatomy of the brain and its vasculature. Cerebral ischemia is caused by a reduction in blood flow that lasts longer than several seconds. Neurologic symptoms are manifest within seconds because neurons lack glycogen, so energy failure is rapid. If the cessation of flow lasts for more than a few minutes, infarction or death of brain tissue results. When blood flow is quickly restored, brain tissue can recover fully and the patient’s symptoms are only transient: This is called a transient ischemic attack (TIA). The standard definition of TIA requires that all neurologic signs and symptoms resolve within 24 h regardless of whether there is imaging evidence of new permanent brain injury; stroke has occurred if the neurologic signs and symptoms last for >24 h. However, a newly proposed definition classifies those with new brain infarction as ischemic strokes regardless of whether symptoms persist. A generalized reduction in cerebral blood flow due to systemic hypotension (e.g., cardiac arrhythmia, myocardial infarction, or hemorrhagic shock) usually produces syncope (Chap. 10). If low cerebral blood flow persists for a longer duration, then infarction in the border zones between the major cerebral artery distributions may develop. In more severe instances, global hypoxia-ischemia causes widespread brain injury; the constellation of cognitive sequelae that ensues is called hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy (Chap. 28). Focal ischemia or infarction, conversely, is usually caused by thrombosis of the cerebral vessels themselves or by emboli from a proximal arterial source or the heart. Intracranial hemorrhage is caused by bleeding directly into or around the brain; it produces neurologic symptoms by producing a mass effect on neural structures, from the toxic effects of blood itself, or by increasing intracranial pressure.


PATIENT Cerebrovascular Disease

Rapid evaluation is essential for use of time-sensitive treatments such as thrombolysis. However, patients with acute stroke often do not seek medical assistance on their own, both because they are rarely in pain, as well as because they may lose the appreciation that something is wrong (anosognosia); it is often a family member or a bystander who calls for help. Therefore, patients and their family members should be counseled to call emergency medical services immediately if they experience or witness the sudden onset of any of the following: loss of sensory and/or motor function on one side of the body (nearly 85% of ischemic stroke patients have hemiparesis); change in vision, gait, or ability to speak or understand; or if they experience a sudden, severe headache.

There are several common causes of sudden-onset neurologic symptoms that may mimic stroke, including seizure, intracranial tumor, migraine, and metabolic encephalopathy. An adequate history from an observer that no convulsive activity occurred at the onset reasonably excludes seizure; however, ongoing complex partial seizures without tonic-clonic activity may mimic stroke. Tumors may present with acute neurologic symptoms due to hemorrhage, seizure, or hydro-cephalus. Surprisingly, migraine can mimic stroke, even in patients without a significant migraine history. When it develops without head pain (acephalgic migraine), the diagnosis may remain elusive. Patients without any prior history of migraine may develop acephalgic migraine even after age 65. A sensory disturbance is often prominent, and the sensory deficit, as well as any motor deficits, tends to migrate slowly across a limb over minutes rather than seconds as with stroke. The diagnosis of migraine becomes more secure as the cortical disturbance begins to cross vascular boundaries or if typical visual symptoms are present such as scintillating scotomata (Chap. 8). At times it may be difficult to make the diagnosis until multiple episodes have occurred leaving behind no residual symptoms and with a normal MRI study of the brain. Classically, metabolic encephalopathies produce fluctuating mental status without focal neurologic findings. However, in the setting of prior stroke or brain injury, a patient with fever or sepsis may manifest hemiparesis, which clears rapidly when the infection is remedied. The metabolic process serves to “unmask” a prior deficit.

Once the diagnosis of stroke is made, a brain imaging study is necessary to determine if the cause of stroke is ischemia or hemorrhage (Fig. 27-1). CT imaging of the brain is the standard imaging modality to detect the presence or absence of intracranial hemorrhage (see “Imaging Studies”). If the stroke is ischemic, administration of recombinant tissue plasminogen activator (rtPA) or endovascular mechanical thrombectomy may be beneficial in restoring cerebral perfusion (see “Treatment: Acute Ischemic Stroke”). Medical management to reduce the risk of complications becomes the next priority, followed by plans for secondary prevention. For ischemic stroke, several strategies can reduce the risk of subsequent stroke in all patients, while other strategies are effective for patients with specific causes of stroke such as cardiac embolus and carotid atherosclerosis. For hemorrhagic stroke, aneurysmal subarachnoid hemorrhage (SAH) and hypertensive intracranial hemorrhage are two important causes. The treatment and prevention of hypertensive intracranial hemorrhage are discussed later in this chapter. SAH is discussed in Chap. 28.



Medical management of stroke and TIA. Rounded boxes are diagnoses; rectangles are interventions. Numbers are percentages of stroke overall. ABCs, airway, breathing, circulation; BP, blood pressure; CEA, carotid endarterectomy; ICH, intracerebral hemorrhage; SAH, subarachnoid hemorrhage; TIA, transient ischemic attack.



Acute occlusion of an intracranial vessel causes reduction in blood flow to the brain region it supplies. The magnitude of flow reduction is a function of collateral blood flow and this depends on individual vascular anatomy, the site of occlusion, and likely systemic blood pressure. A decrease in cerebral blood flow to zero causes death of brain tissue within 4–10 min; values <16–18 mL/100 g tissue per minute cause infarction within an hour; and values <20 mL/100 g tissue per minute cause ischemia without infarction unless prolonged for several hours or days. If blood flow is restored prior to a significant amount of cell death, the patient may experience only transient symptoms, and the clinical syndrome is called a TIA. Tissue surrounding the core region of infarction is ischemic but reversibly dysfunctional and is referred to as the ischemic penumbra. The penumbra may be imaged by using perfusion-diffusion imaging with MRI or CT (see later and Figs. 27-15 and 27-16). The ischemic penumbra will eventually infarct if no change in flow occurs, and hence saving the ischemic penumbra is the goal of revascularization therapies.

Focal cerebral infarction occurs via two distinct pathways (Fig. 27-2): (1) a necrotic pathway in which cellular cytoskeletal breakdown is rapid, due principally to energy failure of the cell; and (2) an apoptotic pathway in which cells become programmed to die. Ischemia produces necrosis by starving neurons of glucose and oxygen, which in turn results in failure of mitochondria to produce ATP. Without ATP, membrane ion pumps stop functioning and neurons depolarize, allowing intra-cellular calcium to rise. Cellular depolarization also causes glutamate release from synaptic terminals; excess extracellular glutamate produces neurotoxicity by activating postsynaptic glutamate receptors that increase neuronal calcium influx. Free radicals are produced by membrane lipid degradation and mitochondrial dysfunction. Free radicals cause catalytic destruction of membranes and likely damage other vital functions of cells. Lesser degrees of ischemia, as are seen within the ischemic penumbra, favor apoptotic cellular death causing cells to die days to weeks later. Fever dramatically worsens brain injury during ischemia, as does hyperglycemia (glucose >11.1 mmol/L [200 mg/dL]), so it is reasonable to suppress fever and prevent hyperglycemia as much as possible. Induced moderate hypothermia to mitigate stroke is the subject of continuing clinical research.



Major steps in the cascade of cerebral ischemia. See text for details. iNOS, inducible nitric oxide synthase; PARP, poly-A ribose polymerase.

TREATMENT Acute Ischemic Stroke

After the clinical diagnosis of stroke is made, an orderly process of evaluation and treatment should follow (Fig. 27-1). The first goal is to prevent or reverse brain injury. Attend to the patient’s airway, breathing, and circulation (ABC’s), and treat hypoglycemia or hyperglycemia if identified. Perform an emergency noncontrast head CT scan to differentiate between ischemic stroke and hemorrhagic stroke; there are no reliable clinical findings that conclusively separate ischemia from hemorrhage, although a more depressed level of consciousness, higher initial blood pressure, or worsening of symptoms after onset favor hemorrhage, and a deficit that is maximal at onset, or remits, suggests ischemia. Treatments designed to reverse or lessen the amount of tissue infarction and improve clinical outcome fall within six categories: (1) medical support, (2) IV thrombolysis, (3) endovascular techniques, (4) antithrombotic treatment, (5) neuroprotection, and (6) stroke centers and rehabilitation.

MEDICAL SUPPORT When ischemic stroke occurs, the immediate goal is to optimize cerebral perfusion in the surrounding ischemic penumbra. Attention is also directed toward preventing the common complications of bedridden patients—infections (pneumonia, urinary, and skin) and deep venous thrombosis (DVT) with pulmonary embolism. Many physicians use pneumatic compression stockings to prevent DVT; subcutaneous heparin (unfractionated and low-molecular weight) is safe and more effective and can be used concomitantly.

Because collateral blood flow within the ischemic brain is blood pressure dependent, there is controversy about whether blood pressure should be lowered acutely. Blood pressure should be lowered if there is malignant hypertension or concomitant myocardial ischemia or if blood pressure is >185/110 mmHg and thrombolytic therapy is anticipated. When faced with the competing demands of myocardium and brain, lowering the heart rate with a β1-adrenergic blocker (such as esmolol) can be a first step to decrease cardiac work and maintain blood pressure. Fever is detrimental and should be treated with antipyretics and surface cooling. Serum glucose should be monitored and kept at <6.1 mmol/L (110 mg/dL) using an insulin infusion if necessary.

Between 5 and 10% of patients develop enough cerebral edema to cause obtundation or brain herniation. Edema peaks on the second or third day but can cause mass effect for ~10 days. The larger the infarct, the greater the likelihood that clinically significant edema will develop. Water restriction and IV mannitol may be used to raise the serum osmolarity, but hypovolemia should be avoided as this may contribute to hypotension and worsening infarction. Combined analysis of three randomized European trials of hemicraniectomy (craniotomy and temporary removal of part of the skull) shows that hemicraniectomy markedly reduces mortality, and the clinical outcomes of survivors are acceptable.

Special vigilance is warranted for patients with cerebellar infarction. Such strokes may mimic labyrinthitis because of prominent vertigo and vomiting; the presence of head or neck pain should alert the physician to consider cerebellar stroke from vertebral artery dissection. Even small amounts of cerebellar edema can acutely increase intracranial pressure (ICP) or directly compress the brainstem. The resulting brainstem compression can result in coma and respiratory arrest and require emergency surgical decompression. Prophylactic suboccipital decompression of large cerebellar infarcts before brainstem compression, although not tested rigorously in a clinical trial, is practiced at most stroke centers.

INTRAVENOUS THROMBOLYSIS The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) recombinant tPA (rtPA) Stroke Study showed a clear benefit for IV rtPA in selected patients with acute stroke. The NINDS study used IV rtPA (0.9 mg/kg to a 90-mg max; 10% as a bolus, then the remainder over 60 min) versus placebo in patients with ischemic stroke within 3 h of onset. One-half of the patients were treated within 90 min. Symptomatic intracerebral hemorrhage occurred in 6.4% of patients on rtPA and 0.6% on placebo. There was a nonsignificant 4% reduction in mortality in patients on rtPA (21% on placebo and 17% on rtPA); there was a significant 12% absolute increase in the number of patients with only minimal disability (32% on placebo and 44% on rtPA). Thus, despite an increased incidence of symptomatic intracerebral hemorrhage, treatment with IV rtPA within 3 h of the onset of ischemic stroke improved clinical outcome.

Three subsequent trials of IV rtPA did not confirm this benefit, perhaps because of the dose of rtPA used, the timing of its delivery, and small sample size. When data from all randomized IV rtPA trails were combined, however, efficacy was confirmed in the <3-h time window, and efficacy likely extended to 4.5 h if not 6 h. Based on these combined results, the European Cooperative Acute Stroke Study (ECASS) III study explored the safety and efficacy of rtPA in the 3- to 4.5-h time window. Unlike the NINDS study, patients older than 85 years of age and diabetic patients were excluded. In this 821-patient, randomized study efficacy was again confirmed, although less robust than in the 0–3 h time window. In the rtPA group, 52.4% achieved a good outcome while 45.2% of the placebo group had a good outcome at 90 days (OR 1.34, Image). The symptomatic intracranial hemorrhage rate was 2.4% in the rtPA group and 0.2% in the placebo group Image.

Based on these data, rtPA is being reviewed for approval in the 3–4.5-h window in Europe, but is only approved for 0–3 h in the United States and Canada. Use of IV tPA is now considered a central component of primary stroke centers (see later) as the first treatment proven to improve clinical outcomes in ischemic stroke and is cost-effective and cost-saving. One may be able to select patients beyond the 4.5-h window, who will benefit from thrombolysis using advanced neuroimaging (see neuroimaging section), but this is currently investigational. The time of stroke onset is defined as the time the patient’s symptoms began or the time the patient was last seen as normal. Patients who awaken with stroke have the onset defined as when they went to bed. Table 27-1 summarizes eligibility criteria and instructions for administration of IV rtPA.

TABLE 27-1




ENDOVASCULAR TECHNIQUES Ischemic stroke from large-vessel intracranial occlusion results in high rates of mortality and morbidity. Occlusions in such large vessels (middle cerebral artery [MCA], internal carotid artery, and the basilar artery) generally involve a large clot volume and often fail to open with IV rtPA alone. Therefore, there is growing interest in using thrombolytics via an intraarterial route to increase the concentration of drug at the clot and minimize systemic bleeding complications. The Prolyse in Acute Cerebral Thromboembolism (PROACT) II trial found benefit for intraarterial pro urokinase for acute MCA occlusions up to the sixth hour following onset of stroke. Intraarterial treatment of basilar artery occlusions may also be beneficial for selected patients. Intraarterial administration of a thrombolytic agent for acute ischemic stroke (AIS) is not approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA); however, many stroke centers offer this treatment based on these data.

Endovascular mechanical thrombectomy has recently shown promise as an alternative or adjunctive treatment of acute stroke in patients who are ineligible for, or have contraindications to, thrombolytics or in those who have failed to have vascular recanalization with IV thrombolytics (see Fig. 27-15). The Mechanical Embolus Removal in Cerebral Ischemia (MERCI) and multi-MERCI single-arm trials investigated the ability of a novel endovascular thrombectomy device to restore patency of occluded intracranial vessels within 8 h of ischemic stroke symptoms. Recanalization of the target vessel occurred in 48–58% of treated patients and in 60–69% following use of adjuvant endovascular methods, and successful recanalization at 90 days correlated well with favorable outcomes. Based upon these nonrandomized data, the FDA approved this device as the first device for revascularization of occluded vessels in acute ischemic stroke even if the patient has been given rtPA and that therapy has failed. The Penumbra Pivotal Stroke trial tested another mechanical device that showed even higher rates of recanalization and led to FDA clearance of the tested device as well. Because use of endovascular devices in combination with rtPA appears safe, primary stroke centers may administer rtPA to eligible patients, and then rapidly refer such patients to comprehensive stroke centers that have endovascular capability for further intervention. Such a design allows centralization of resource-intensive endovascular centers in order to serve larger populations of patients. Use of mechanical techniques to restore blood flow have not as yet been studied in a randomized trial so the clinical efficacy of these treatments remain unproven and the focus of active investigation.


Platelet Inhibition Aspirin is the only antiplatelet agent that has been proven effective for the acute treatment of ischemic stroke; there are several antiplatelet agents proven for the secondary prevention of stroke (see later). Two large trials, the International Stroke Trial (IST) and the Chinese Acute Stroke Trial (CAST), found that the use of aspirin within 48 h of stroke onset reduced both stroke recurrence risk and mortality minimally. Among 19,435 patients in IST, those allocated to aspirin, 300 mg/d, had slightly fewer deaths within 14 days (9.0 versus 9.4%), significantly fewer recurrent ischemic strokes (2.8 versus 3.9%), no excess of hemorrhagic strokes (0.9 versus 0.8%), and a trend toward a reduction in death or dependence at 6 months (61.2 versus 63.5%). In CAST, 21,106 patients with ischemic stroke received 160 mg/d of aspirin or a placebo for up to 4 weeks. There were very small reductions in the aspirin group in early mortality (3.3 versus 3.9%), recurrent ischemic strokes (1.6 versus 2.1%), and dependency at discharge or death (30.5 versus 31.6%). These trials demonstrate that the use of aspirin in the treatment of AIS is safe and produces a small net benefit. For every 1000 acute strokes treated with aspirin, about 9 deaths or nonfatal stroke recurrences will be prevented in the first few weeks and ~13 fewer patients will be dead or dependent at 6 months.

The glycoprotein IIb/IIIa receptor inhibitor abciximab was found to cause excess intracranial hemorrhage and should be avoided in acute stroke. Clopidogrel is being tested as a way to prevent stroke following TIA and minor ischemic stroke.

Anticoagulation Numerous clinical trials have failed to demonstrate any benefit of anticoagulation in the primary treatment of atherothrombotic cerebral ischemia. Several trials have investigated anti-platelet versus anticoagulant medications given within 12–24 h of the initial event. The U.S. Trial of Organon 10172 in Acute Stroke Treatment (TOAST), an investigational low-molecular-weight heparin (LMWH), failed to show any benefit over aspirin. Use of SC unfractionated heparin versus aspirin was tested in IST. Heparin given SC afforded no additional benefit over aspirin and increased bleeding rates. Several trials of LMWHs have also shown no consistent benefit in AIS. Furthermore, trials generally have shown an excess risk of brain and systemic hemorrhage with acute anticoagulation. Therefore, trials do not support the routine use of heparin or other anticoagulants for patients with atherothrombotic stroke.

NEUROPROTECTION Neuroprotection is the concept of providing a treatment that prolongs the brain’s tolerance to ischemia. Drugs that block the excitatory amino acid pathways have been shown to protect neurons and glia in animals, but despite multiple human trials, they have not yet been proven to be beneficial. Hypothermia is a powerful neuroprotective treatment in patients with cardiac arrest (Chap. 28) and is neuroprotective in animal models of stroke, but it has not been adequately studied in patients with ischemic stroke.

STROKE CENTERS AND REHABILITATION Patient care in comprehensive stroke units followed by rehabilitation services improves neurologic outcomes and reduces mortality. Use of clinical pathways and staff dedicated to the stroke patient can improve care. Stroke teams that provide emergency 24-h evaluation of acute stroke patients for acute medical management and consideration of thrombolysis or endovascular treatments are essential components of primary and comprehensive stroke centers, respectively.

Proper rehabilitation of the stroke patient includes early physical, occupational, and speech therapy. It is directed toward educating the patient and family about the patient’s neurologic deficit, preventing the complications of immobility (e.g., pneumonia, DVT and pulmonary embolism, pressure sores of the skin, and muscle contractures), and providing encouragement and instruction in overcoming the deficit. The goal of rehabilitation is to return the patient to home and to maximize recovery by providing a safe, progressive regimen suited to the individual patient. Additionally, the use of restraint therapy (immobilizing the unaffected side) has been shown to improve hemiparesis following stroke, even years following the stroke, suggesting that physical therapy can recruit unused neural pathways. This finding suggests that the human nervous system is more adaptable than originally thought and has stimulated active research into physical and pharmacologic strategies that can enhance long-term neural recovery.


(Figs. 27-1 and 27-3 and Table 27-2) Although the initial management of AIS often does not depend on the etiology, establishing a cause is essential in reducing the risk of recurrence. Particular focus should be on atrial fibrillation and carotid atherosclerosis, as these etiologies have proven secondary prevention strategies. The clinical presentation and examination findings often establish the cause of stroke or narrow the possibilities to a few. Judicious use of laboratory testing and imaging studies completes the initial evaluation. Nevertheless, nearly 30% of strokes remain unexplained despite extensive evaluation.

TABLE 27-2






Pathophysiology of ischemic strokeA. Diagram illustrating the three major mechanisms that underlie ischemic stroke: (1) occlusion of an intracranial vessel by an embolus that arises at a distant site (e.g., cardiogenic sources such as atrial fibrillation or artery-to-artery emboli from carotid atherosclerotic plaque), often affecting the large intracranial vessels; (2) in situ thrombosis of an intracranial vessel, typically affecting the small penetrating arteries that arise from the major intracranial arteries; and (3) hypoperfusion caused by flow-limiting stenosis of a major extracranial (e.g., internal carotid) or intracranial vessel, often producing “watershed” ischemia. B and C. Diagram and reformatted CT angiogram of the common, internal, and external carotid arteries. High-grade stenosis of the internal carotid artery, which may be associated with either cerebral emboli or flow-limiting ischemia, was identified in this patient.

Clinical examination should focus on the peripheral and cervical vascular system (carotid auscultation for bruits, blood pressure, and pressure comparison between arms), the heart (dysrhythmia, murmurs), extremities (peripheral emboli), and retina (effects of hypertension and cholesterol emboli [Hollenhorst plaques]). A complete neurologic examination is performed to localize the site of stroke. An imaging study of the brain is nearly always indicated and is required for patients being considered for thrombolysis; it may be combined with CT-or MRI-based angiography to interrogate the neck and intracranial vessels (see “Imaging Studies”). A chest x-ray, electrocardiogram (ECG), urinalysis, complete blood count, erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR), serum electrolytes, blood urea nitrogen (BUN), creatinine, blood sugar, serologic test for syphilis, serum lipid profile, prothrombin time (PT), and partial thromboplastin time (PTT) are often useful and should be considered in all patients. An ECG may demonstrate arrhythmias or reveal evidence of recent myocardial infarction (MI).

Cardioembolic stroke

Cardioembolism is responsible for ~20% of all ischemic strokes. Stroke caused by heart disease is primarily due to embolism of thrombotic material forming on the atrial or ventricular wall or the left heart valves. These thrombi then detach and embolize into the arterial circulation. The thrombus may fragment or lyse quickly, producing only a TIA. Alternatively, the arterial occlusion may last longer, producing stroke. Embolic strokes tend to be sudden in onset, with maximum neurologic deficit at once. With reperfusion following more prolonged ischemia, petechial hemorrhage can occur within the ischemic territory. This is usually of no clinical significance and should be distinguished from frank intracranial hemorrhage into a region of ischemic stroke where the mass effect from the hemorrhage can cause a decline in neurologic function.

Emboli from the heart most often lodge in the MCA, the posterior cerebral artery (PCA), or one of their branches; infrequently, the anterior cerebral artery (ACA) territory is involved. Emboli large enough to occlude the stem of the MCA (3–4 mm) lead to large infarcts that involve both deep gray and white matter and some portions of the cortical surface and its underlying white matter. A smaller embolus may occlude a small cortical or penetrating arterial branch. The location and size of an infarct within a vascular territory depend on the extent of the collateral circulation.

The most significant causes of cardioembolic stroke in most of the world are nonrheumatic (often called nonvalvular) atrial fibrillation, MI, prosthetic valves, rheumatic heart disease, and ischemic cardiomyopathy (Table 27-2). Cardiac disorders causing brain embolism are discussed in the respective chapters on heart diseases. A few pertinent aspects are highlighted here.

Nonrheumatic atrial fibrillation is the most common cause of cerebral embolism overall. The presumed stroke mechanism is thrombus formation in the fibrillating atrium or atrial appendage, with subsequent embolization. Patients with atrial fibrillation have an average annual risk of stroke of ~5%. The risk of stroke can be estimated by calculating the CHADS2 score (see Table 27-3). Left atrial enlargement is an additional risk factor for formation of atrial thrombi. Rheumatic heart disease usually causes ischemic stroke when there is prominent mitral stenosis or atrial fibrillation. Recent MI may be a source of emboli, especially when transmural and involving the anteroapical ventricular wall, and prophylactic anticoagulation following MI has been shown to reduce stroke risk. Mitral valve prolapse is not usually a source of emboli unless the prolapse is severe.

TABLE 27-3




Paradoxical embolization occurs when venous thrombi migrate to the arterial circulation, usually via a patent foramen ovale or atrial septal defect. Bubble-contrast echo-cardiography (IV injection of agitated saline coupled with either transthoracic or transesophageal echocardiography) can demonstrate a right-to-left cardiac shunt, revealing the conduit for paradoxical embolization. Alternatively, a right-to-left shunt is implied if immediately following IV injection of agitated saline, the ultrasound signature of bubbles is observed during transcranial Doppler insonation of the MCA; pulmonary AVMs should be considered if this test is positive yet an echocardiogram fails to reveal an intracardiac shunt. Both techniques are highly sensitive for detection of right-to-left shunts. Besides venous clot, fat and tumor emboli, bacterial endocarditis, IV air, and amniotic fluid emboli at childbirth may occasionally be responsible for paradoxical embolization. The importance of right-to-left shunt as a cause of stroke is debated, particularly because such shunts are present in ~15% of the general population. Some studies have suggested that the risk is only elevated in the presence of a coexisting atrial septal aneurysm. The presence of a venous source of embolus, most commonly a deep venous thrombus, may provide confirmation of the importance of a right-to-left shunt in a particular case.

Bacterial endocarditis can cause valvular vegetations that can give rise to septic emboli. The appearance of multifocal symptoms and signs in a patient with stroke makes bacterial endocarditis more likely. Infarcts of microscopic size occur, and large septic infarcts may evolve into brain abscesses or cause hemorrhage into the infarct, which generally precludes use of anticoagulation or thrombolytics. Mycotic aneurysms caused by septic emboli give rise to SAH or intracerebral hemorrhage.

Artery-to-artery embolic stroke

Thrombus formation on atherosclerotic plaques may embolize to intracranial arteries producing an artery-to-artery embolic stroke. Less commonly, a diseased vessel may acutely thrombose. Unlike the myocardial vessels, artery-to-artery embolism, rather than local thrombosis, appears to be the dominant vascular mechanism causing brain ischemia. Any diseased vessel may be an embolic source, including the aortic arch, common carotid, internal carotid, vertebral, and basilar arteries. Carotid bifurcation atherosclerosis is the most common source of artery-to-artery embolus, and specific treatments have proven efficacy in reducing risk.

Image Carotid atherosclerosis

Atherosclerosis within the carotid artery occurs most frequently within the common carotid bifurcation and proximal internal carotid artery. Additionally, the carotid siphon (portion within the cavernous sinus) is also vulnerable to atherosclerosis. Male gender, older age, smoking, hypertension, diabetes, and hypercholesterolemia are risk factors for carotid disease, as they are for stroke in general (Table 27-4). Carotid atherosclerosis produces an estimated 10% of ischemic stroke.

TABLE 27-4



Carotid disease can be classified by whether the stenosis is symptomatic or asymptomatic and by the degree of stenosis (percent narrowing of the narrowest segment compared to a more distal internal carotid segment). Symptomatic carotid disease implies that the patient has experienced a stroke or TIA within the vascular distribution of the artery, and it is associated with a greater risk of subsequent stroke than asymptomatic stenosis, in which the patient is symptom free and the stenosis is detected through screening. Greater degrees of arterial narrowing are generally associated with a greater risk of stroke, except that those with near occlusions are at lower risk of stroke.

Image Other causes of artery-to-artery embolic stroke

Intracranial atherosclerosis produces stroke either by an embolic mechanism or by in situ thrombosis of a diseased vessel. It is more common in patients of Asian and African-American descent. Recurrent stroke risk is ~15% per year, similar to symptomatic untreated carotid atherosclerosis.

Dissection of the internal carotid or vertebral arteries or even vessels beyond the circle of Willis is a common source of embolic stroke in young (age <60 years) patients. The dissection is usually painful and precedes the stroke by several hours or days. Extracranial dissections do not cause hemorrhage because of the tough adventitia of these vessels. Intracranial dissections, conversely, may produce SAH because the adventitia of intracranial vessels is thin and pseudoaneurysms may form, requiring urgent treatment to prevent rerupture. Treating asymptomatic pseudoaneurysms following dissection is controversial. The cause of dissection is usually unknown and recurrence is rare. Ehlers-Danlos type IV, Marfan’s disease, cystic medial necrosis, and fibromuscular dysplasia are associated with dissections. Trauma (usually a motor vehicle accident or a sports injury) can cause carotid and vertebral artery dissections. Spinal manipulative therapy is independently associated with vertebral artery dissection and stroke. Most dissections heal spontaneously, and stroke or TIA is uncommon beyond 2 weeks. Although there are no trials comparing anticoagulation to antiplatelet agents, many physicians treat acutely with anticoagulants then convert to antiplatelet therapy after demonstration of satisfactory vascular recanalization.


The term lacunar infarction refers to infarction following atherothrombotic or lipohyalinotic occlusion of a small artery (30–300 μm) in the brain. The term small-vessel stroke denotes occlusion of such a small penetrating artery and is now the preferred term. Small-vessel strokes account for ~20% of all strokes.

Image Pathophysiology

The MCA stem, the arteries comprising the circle of Willis (A1 segment, anterior and posterior communicating arteries, and P1 segment), and the basilar and vertebral arteries all give rise to 30- to 300-μm branches that penetrate the deep gray and white matter of the cerebrum or brainstem (Fig. 27-4). Each of these small branches can occlude either by atherothrombotic disease at its origin or by the development of lipohyalinotic thickening. Thrombosis of these vessels causes small infarcts that are referred to as lacunes (Latin for “lake” of fluid noted at autopsy). These infarcts range in size from 3 mm to 2 cm in diameter. Hypertension and age are the principal risk factors.




Diagrams and reformatted CT angiograms in the coronal section illustrating the deep penetrating arteries involved in small-vessel strokes. In the anterior circulation, small penetrating arteries called lenticulostriates arise from the proximal portion of the anterior and middle cerebral arteries and supply deep subcortical structures (upper panels). In the posterior circulation, similar arteries arise directly from the vertebral and basilar arteries to supply the brainstem (lower panels). Occlusion of a single penetrating artery gives rise to a discrete area of infarct (pathologically termed a “lacune,” or lake). Note that these vessels are too small to be visualized on CT angiography.

Image Clinical manifestations

The most common lacunar syndromes are the following: (1) pure motor hemiparesis from an infarct in the posterior limb of the internal capsule or basis pontis; the face, arm, and leg are almost always involved; (2) pure sensory stroke from an infarct in the ventral thalamus; (3) ataxic hemiparesis from an infarct in the ventral pons or internal capsule; and (4) dysarthria and a clumsy hand or arm due to infarction in the ventral pons or in the genu of the internal capsule.

Transient symptoms (small-vessel TIAs) may herald a small-vessel infarct; they may occur several times a day and last only a few minutes. Recovery from small-vessel strokes tends to be more rapid and complete than recovery from large-vessel strokes; in some cases, however, there is severe permanent disability. Often, institution of combined antithrombotic treatments does not prevent eventual stroke in “stuttering lacunes.”

A large-vessel source (either thrombosis or embolism) may manifest initially as a lacunar syndrome with small-vessel infarction. Therefore, the search for embolic sources (carotid and heart) should not be completely abandoned in the evaluation of these patients. Secondary prevention of lacunar stroke involves risk factor modification, specifically reduction in blood pressure (see “Primary and Secondary Prevention of Stroke and TIA”).


(Table 27-2Hypercoagulable disorders primarily cause increased risk of venous thrombosis and therefore may cause venous sinus thrombosis. Protein S deficiency and homocysteinemia may cause arterial thromboses as well. Systemic lupus erythematosus with Libman-Sacks endocarditis can be a cause of embolic stroke. These conditions overlap with the antiphospholipid syndrome, which probably requires long-term anticoagulation to prevent further stroke.

Venous sinus thrombosis of the lateral or sagittal sinus or of small cortical veins (cortical vein thrombosis) occurs as a complication of oral contraceptive use, pregnancy and the postpartum period, inflammatory bowel disease, intracranial infections (meningitis), and dehydration. It is also seen with increased incidence in patients with laboratory-confirmed thrombophilia (Table 27-2) including polycythemia, sickle cell anemia, deficiencies of proteins C and S, factor V Leiden mutation (resistance to activated protein C), anti-thrombin III deficiency, homocysteinemia, and the prothrombin G20210 mutation. Women who take oral contraceptives and have the prothrombin G20210 mutation may be at particularly high risk for sinus thrombosis. Patients present with headache and may also have focal neurologic signs (especially paraparesis) and seizures. Often, CT imaging is normal unless an intracranial venous hemorrhage has occurred, but the venous sinus occlusion is readily visualized using MR- or CT-venography or conventional x-ray angiography. With greater degrees of sinus thrombosis, the patient may develop signs of increased ICP and coma. Intravenous heparin, regardless of the presence of intracranial hemorrhage, has been shown to reduce morbidity and mortality, and the long-term outcome is generally good. Heparin prevents further thrombosis and reduces venous hypertension and ischemia. If an underlying hypercoagulable state is not found, many physicians treat with vitamin K antagonists (VKAs) for 3–6 months then convert to aspirin, depending on the degree of resolution of the venous sinus thrombus. Anticoagulation is often continued indefinitely if thrombophilia is diagnosed.

Sickle cell anemia (SS disease) is a common cause of stroke in children. A subset of homozygous carriers of this hemoglobin mutation develop stroke in childhood, and this may be predicted by documenting highvelocity blood flow within the MCAs using transcranial Doppler ultrasonography. In children who are identified to have high velocities, treatment with aggressive exchange transfusion dramatically reduces risk of stroke, and if exchange transfusion is ceased, their stroke rate increases again along with MCA velocities.

Fibromuscular dysplasia affects the cervical arteries and occurs mainly in women. The carotid or vertebral arteries show multiple rings of segmental narrowing alternating with dilatation. Occlusion is usually incomplete. The process is often asymptomatic but occasionally is associated with an audible bruit, TIAs, or stroke. Involvement of the renal arteries is common and may cause hypertension. The cause and natural history of fibromuscular dysplasia are unknown. TIA or stroke generally occurs only when the artery is severely narrowed or dissects. Anticoagulation or antiplatelet therapy may be helpful.

Temporal (giant cell) arteritis is a relatively common affliction of elderly persons in which the external carotid system, particularly the temporal arteries, undergo subacute granulomatous inflammation with giant cells. Occlusion of posterior ciliary arteries derived from the ophthalmic artery results in blindness in one or both eyes and can be prevented with glucocorticoids. It rarely causes stroke as the internal carotid artery is usually not inflamed. Idiopathic giant cell arteritis involving the great vessels arising from the aortic arch (Takayasu’s arteritis) may cause carotid or vertebral thrombosis; it is rare in the Western hemisphere.

Necrotizing (or granulomatous) arteritis, occurring alone or in association with generalized polyarteritis nodosa or granulomatosis with polyangiitis (Wegener’s), involves the distal small branches (<2 mm diameter) of the main intracranial arteries and produces small ischemic infarcts in the brain, optic nerve, and spinal cord. The cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) often shows pleocytosis, and the protein level is elevated. Primary central nervous system vasculitis is rare; small or medium-sized vessels are usually affected, without apparent systemic vasculitis. The differential diagnosis includes other inflammatory causes of vascular caliber change including infection (tubercular, fungal), sarcoidosis, angiocentric lymphoma, carcinomatous meningitis, as well as noninflammatory causes such as atherosclerosis, emboli, connective tissue disease, vasospasm, migraine-associated vasculopathy, and drug-associated causes. Some cases follow the postpartum period and are self-limited.

Patients with any form of vasculopathy may present with insidious progression of combined white and gray matter infarctions, prominent headache, and cognitive decline. Brain biopsy or high-resolution conventional x-ray angiography is usually required to make the diagnosis (Fig. 27-5). An inflammatory profile found on lumbar puncture favors an inflammatory cause. In cases where inflammation is confirmed, aggressive immunosuppression with glucocorticoids, and often cyclophosphamide, is usually necessary to prevent progression; a diligent investigation for infectious causes such as tuberculosis is essential prior to immunosuppression. With prompt recognition and treatment, many patients can make an excellent recovery.



Cerebral angiogram from a 32-year-old male with central nervous system vasculopathy. Dramatic beading (arrows) typical of vasculopathy is seen.

Drugs, in particular amphetamines and perhaps cocaine, may cause stroke on the basis of acute hypertension or drug-induced vasculopathy. No data exist on the value of any treatment. Phenylpropanolamine has been linked with intracranial hemorrhage, as has cocaine and methamphetamine, perhaps related to a drug-induced vasculopathy. Moyamoya disease is a poorly understood occlusive disease involving large intracranial arteries, especially the distal internal carotid artery and the stem of the MCA and ACA. Vascular inflammation is absent. The lenticulostriate arteries develop a rich collateral circulation around the occlusive lesion, which gives the impression of a “puff of smoke” (moyamoya in Japanese) on conventional x-ray angiography. Other collaterals include transdural anastomoses between the cortical surface branches of the meningeal and scalp arteries. The disease occurs mainly in Asian children or young adults, but the appearance may be identical in adults who have atherosclerosis, particularly in association with diabetes. Because of the occurrence of intracranial hemorrhage from rupture of the transdural and pial anastomotic channels, anticoagulation is risky. Breakdown of dilated lenticulostriate arteries may produce parenchymal hemorrhage, and progressive occlusion of large surface arteries can occur, producing large-artery distribution strokes. Surgical bypass of extracranial carotid arteries to the dura or MCAs may prevent stroke and hemorrhage.

Reversible posterior leukoencephalopathy can occur in head injury, seizure, migraine, sympathomimetic drug use, eclampsia, and the postpartum period. The patho-physiology is uncertain but likely involves widespread cerebral segmental vasoconstriction and cerebral edema. Patients complain of headache and manifest fluctuating neurologic symptoms and signs, especially visual symptoms. Sometimes cerebral infarction ensues, but typically the clinical and imaging findings suggest that ischemia reverses completely. MRI findings are characteristic, and conventional x-ray angiography may also be helpful in establishing the diagnosis.

Leukoaraiosis, or periventricular white matter disease, is the result of multiple small-vessel infarcts within the subcortical white matter. It is readily seen on CT or MRI scans as areas of white matter injury surrounding the ventricles and within the corona radiata. Areas of lacunar infarction are often seen also. The pathophysiologic basis of the disease is lipohyalinosis of small penetrating arteries within the white matter, likely produced by chronic hypertension. Patients with periventricular white matter disease may develop a subcortical dementia syndrome, depending on the amount of white matter infarction, and it is likely that this common form of dementia may be delayed or prevented with antihypertensive medications (Chap. 29).

CADASIL (cerebral autosomal dominant arteriopathy with subcortical infarcts and leukoencephalopathy) is an inherited disorder that presents as small-vessel strokes, progressive dementia, and extensive symmetric white matter changes visualized by MRI. Approximately 40% of patients have migraine with aura, often manifest as transient motor or sensory deficits. Onset is usually in the fourth or fifth decade of life. This autosomal dominant condition is caused by one of several mutations in Notch-3, a member of a highly conserved gene family characterized by epidermal growth factor repeats in its extracellular domain. Other monogenic ischemic stroke syndromes include cerebral autosomal recessive arteriopathy with subcortical infarcts and leukoencephalopathy (CARASIL) and hereditary endotheliopathy, retinopathy, nephropathy, and stroke (HERNS). Fabry’s disease also produces both large-vessel arteriopathy and small-vessel infarcts by an unknown mechanism.


TIAs are episodes of stroke symptoms that last only briefly; the standard definition of duration is <24 h, but most TIAs last <1 h. The causes of TIA are similar to the causes of ischemic stroke, but because TIAs may herald stroke they are an important risk factor that should be considered separately. TIAs may arise from emboli to the brain or from in situ thrombosis of an intracranial vessel. With a TIA, the occluded blood vessel reopens and neurologic function is restored. However, infarcts of the brain do occur in 15–50% of TIAs even though neurologic signs and symptoms are absent. Newer definitions of TIA categorize those with new infarct as having ischemic stroke rather than TIA regardless of symptom duration, but the vast majority of studies have used the standard, time-based definition.

In addition to the stroke syndromes discussed later, one specific TIA symptom should receive special notice. Amaurosis fugax, or transient monocular blindness, occurs from emboli to the central retinal artery of one eye. This may indicate carotid stenosis as the cause or local ophthalmic artery disease.

The risk of stroke after a TIA is ~10–15% in the first 3 months, with most events occurring in the first 2 days. This risk can be directly estimated using the well-validated ABCD2 method (Table 27-5). Therefore, urgent evaluation and treatment are justified. Since etiologies for stroke and TIA are identical, evaluation for TIA should parallel that of stroke (Figs. 27-1 and 27-3). The improvement characteristic of TIA is a contraindication to thrombolysis. However, since the risk of subsequent stroke in the first few days after a TIA is high, the opportunity to give rtPA rapidly if a stroke occurs probably justifies hospital admission for most patients. Acute antiplatelet therapy has not been tested specifically after TIA but is likely to be effective and is recommended. A large-scale trial of acute anti-thrombotic treatment to prevent stroke following TIA is ongoing.

TABLE 27-5




TREATMENT Primary and Secondary Prevention of Stroke and TIA

GENERAL PRINCIPLES A number of medical and surgical interventions, as well as lifestyle modifications, are available for preventing stroke. Some of these can be widely applied because of their low cost and minimal risk; others are expensive and carry substantial risk but may be valuable for selected high-risk patients. Identification and control of modifiable risk factors is the best strategy to reduce the burden of stroke, and the total number of strokes could be reduced substantially by these means (Table 27-4).

ATHEROSCLEROSIS RISK FACTORS Older age, family history of thrombotic stroke, diabetes mellitus, hypertension, tobacco smoking, abnormal blood cholesterol (particularly, low high-density lipoprotein [HDL] and/or high low-density lipoprotein [LDL]), and other factors are either proven or probable risk factors for ischemic stroke, largely by their link to atherosclerosis. Risk of stroke is much greater in those with prior stroke or TIA. Many cardiac conditions predispose to stroke, including atrial fibrillation and recent MI. Oral contraceptives and hormone replacement therapy increase stroke risk, and certain inherited and acquired hypercoagulable states predispose to stroke. Hypertension is the most significant of the risk factors; in general, all hypertension should be treated. The presence of known cerebrovascular disease is not a contraindication to treatment aimed at achieving normotension. Also, the value of treating systolic hypertension in older patients has been clearly established. Lowering blood pressure to levels below those traditionally defining hypertension appears to reduce the risk of stroke even further. Data are particularly strong in support of thiazide diuretics and angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors.

Several trials have confirmed that statin drugs reduce the risk of stroke even in patients without elevated LDL or low HDL. The Stroke Prevention by Aggressive Reduction in Cholesterol Levels (SPARCL) trial showed benefit in secondary stroke reduction for patients with recent stroke or TIA, who were prescribed atorvastatin, 80 mg/d. The primary prevention trial, Justification for the Use of Statins in Prevention: An Intervention Trial Evaluating Rosuvastatin (JUPITER), found that patients with low LDL (<130 mg/dL) caused by elevated C-reactive protein benefitted by daily use of this statin. Primary stroke occurrence was reduced by 51% (hazard ratio 0.49, Image) and there was no increase in the rates of intracranial hemorrhage. Therefore, a statin should be considered in all patients with prior ischemic stroke. Tobacco smoking should be discouraged in all patients. Tight control of blood sugar in patients with type 2 diabetes lowers stroke risk MI and death of any cause, but no trial sufficiently powered to detect a significant reduction in stroke has yet been performed. Statins, more aggressive blood pressure control, and pioglitazone (an agonist of peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor gamma) are effective.

ANTIPLATELET AGENTS Platelet antiaggregation agents can prevent atherothrombotic events, including TIA and stroke, by inhibiting the formation of intraarterial platelet aggregates. These can form on diseased arteries, induce thrombus formation, and occlude the artery or embolize into the distal circulation. Aspirin, clopidogrel, and the combination of aspirin plus extended-release dipyridamole are the antiplatelet agents most commonly used for this purpose. Ticlopi-dine has been largely abandoned because of its adverse effects but may be used as an alternative to clopidogrel.

Aspirin is the most widely studied antiplatelet agent. Aspirin acetylates platelet cyclooxygenase, which irreversibly inhibits the formation in platelets of thromboxane A2, a platelet aggregating and vasoconstricting prostaglandin. This effect is permanent and lasts for the usual 8-day life of the platelet. Paradoxically, aspirin also inhibits the formation in endothelial cells of prostacyclin, an antiaggregating and vasodilating prostaglandin. This effect is transient. As soon as aspirin is cleared from the blood, the nucleated endothelial cells again produce prostacyclin. Aspirin in low doses given once daily inhibits the production of thromboxane A2 in platelets without substantially inhibiting prostacyclin formation. Higher doses of aspirin have not been proven to be more effective than lower doses, and 50–325 mg/d of aspirin is generally recommended for stroke prevention.

Ticlopidine and clopidogrel block the adenosine diphosphate (ADP) receptor on platelets and thus prevent the cascade resulting in activation of the glyco-protein IIb/IIIa receptor that leads to fibrinogen binding to the platelet and consequent platelet aggregation. Ticlopidine is more effective than aspirin; however, it has the disadvantage of causing diarrhea, skin rash, and, in rare instances, neutropenia and thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura (TTP). Clopidogrel rarely causes TTP but does not cause neutropenia. The Clopidogrel versus Aspirin in Patients at Risk of Ischemic Events (CAPRIE) trial, which led to FDA approval, found that it was only marginally more effective than aspirin in reducing risk of stroke. The Management of Atherothrombosis with Clopidogrel in High-Risk Patients (MATCH) trial was a large multicenter, randomized double-blind study that compared clopidogrel in combination with aspirin to clopidogrel alone in the secondary prevention of TIA or stroke. The MATCH trial found no difference in TIA or stroke prevention with this combination, but did show a small but significant increase in major bleeding complications (3% versus 1%). In the Clopidogrel for High Atherothrombotic Risk and Ischemic Stabilization, Management, and Avoidance (CHARISMA) trial, which included a subgroup of patients with prior stroke or TIA along with other groups at high risk of cardiovascular events, there was no benefit of clopidogrel combined with aspirin compared to aspirin alone. Thus, the use of clopidogrel in combination with aspirin is not recommended for stroke prevention. However, these trials did not enroll patients immediately after the stroke or TIA, and the benefits of combination therapy were greater among those treated earlier, so it is possible that clopidogrel combined with aspirin may be beneficial in this acute period. Ongoing studies are currently addressing this question.

Dipyridamole is an antiplatelet agent that inhibits the uptake of adenosine by a variety of cells, including those of the vascular endothelium. The accumulated adenosine is an inhibitor of aggregation. At least in part through its effects on platelet and vessel wall phosphodiesterases, dipyridamole also potentiates the antiaggregatory effects of prostacyclin and nitric oxide produced by the endothelium and acts by inhibiting platelet phosphodiesterase, which is responsible for the breakdown of cyclic AMP. The resulting elevation in cyclic AMP inhibits aggregation of platelets. Dipyridamole is erratically absorbed depending on stomach pH, but a newer formulation combines timed-release dipyridamole, 200 mg, with aspirin, 25 mg, and has better oral bioavailability. This combination drug was studied in three trials. The European Stroke Prevention Study (ESPS) II showed efficacy of both 50 mg/d of aspirin and extended-release dipyridamole in preventing stroke, and a significantly better risk reduction when the two agents were combined. The ESPRIT (European/Australasian Stroke Prevention in Reversible Ischaemia Trial) trial confirmed the ESPS-II results. This was an open-label, academic trial in which 2739 patients with stroke or TIA treated with aspirin were randomized to dipyridamole, 200 mg twice daily, or no dipyridamole. Primary outcome was the composite of death from all vascular causes, nonfatal stroke, nonfatal MI, or major bleeding complication. After 3.5 years of follow-up, 13% of patients on aspirin and dipyridamole and 16% on aspirin alone (hazard ratio 0.80, 95% confidence index [CI] 0.66–0.98) met the primary outcome. In the Prevention Regimen for Effectively Avoiding Second Strokes (PRoFESS) trial, the combination of extended-release dipyridamole and aspirin was compared directly with clopidogrel with and without the angiotensin receptor blocker telmisartan in a study of 20,332 patients. There were no differences in the rates of second stroke (9% each) or degree of disability in patients with median follow-up of 2.4 years. Telmisartan also had no effect on these outcomes. This suggests that these antiplatelet regimens are similar, and also raises questions about default prescription of agents to block the angiotensin pathway in all stroke patients. The principal side effect of dipyridamole is headache. The combination capsule of extended-release dipyridamole and aspirin is approved for prevention of stroke.

Many large clinical trials have demonstrated clearly that most antiplatelet agents reduce the risk of all important vascular atherothrombotic events (i.e., ischemic stroke, MI, and death due to all vascular causes) in patients at risk for these events. The overall relative reduction in risk of nonfatal stroke is about 25–30% and of all vascular events is about 25%. The absolute reduction varies considerably, depending on the particular patient’s risk. Individuals at very low risk for stroke seem to experience the same relative reduction, but their risks may be so low that the “benefit” is meaningless. Conversely, individuals with a 10–15% risk of vascular events per year experience a reduction to about 7.5–11%.

Aspirin is inexpensive, can be given in low doses, and could be recommended for all adults to prevent both stroke and MI. However, it causes epigastric discomfort, gastric ulceration, and gastrointestinal hemorrhage, which may be asymptomatic or life threatening. Consequently, not every 40- or 50-year-old should be advised to take aspirin regularly because the risk of atherothrombotic stroke is extremely low and is outweighed by the risk of adverse side effects. Conversely, every patient who has experienced an atherothrombotic stroke or TIA and has no contraindication should be taking an antiplatelet agent regularly because the average annual risk of another stroke is 8–10%; another few percent will experience an MI or vascular death. Clearly, the likelihood of benefit far outweighs the risks of treatment.

The choice of antiplatelet agent and dose must balance the risk of stroke, the expected benefit, and the risk and cost of treatment. However, there are no definitive data, and opinions vary. Many authorities believe low-dose (30–75 mg/d) and high-dose (650–1300 mg/d) aspirin are about equally effective. Some advocate very low doses to avoid adverse effects, and still others advocate very high doses to be sure the benefit is maximal. Most physicians in North America recommend 81–325 mg/d, while most Europeans recommend 50–100 mg. Clopidogrel or extended-release dipyridamole plus aspirin are being increasingly recommended as first-line drugs for secondary prevention. Similarly, the choice of aspirin, clopidogrel, or dipyridamole plus aspirin must balance the fact that the latter are more effective than aspirin but the cost is higher, and this is likely to affect long-term patient adherence. The use of platelet aggregation studies in individual patients taking aspirin is controversial because of limited data.

ANTICOAGULATION THERAPY AND EMBOLIC STROKE Several trials have shown that anticoagulation (INR range, 2–3) in patients with chronic nonvalvular (nonrheumatic) atrial fibrillation prevents cerebral embolism and is safe. For primary prevention and for patients who have experienced stroke or TIA, anticoagulation with a VKA reduces the risk by about 67%, which clearly outweighs the 1–3% risk per year of a major bleeding complication. A recent randomized trial compared the new oral thrombin inhibitor dabigatran to VKAs in a noninferiority trial to prevent stroke or systemic embolization in nonvalvular atrial fibrillation. Two doses of dabigatran were used: 110 mg/d and 150 mg/d. Both dose tiers of dabigatran were noninferior to VKAs in preventing second stroke and systemic embolization, and the higher dose tier was superior (relative risk 0.66; 95% CI, 0.53 to 0.82; P < 0.001) and the rate of major bleeding was lower in the lower dose tier of dabigatran compared to VKAs. This drug is likely more convenient to take as no blood monitoring is required to titrate the dose and its effect is independent of oral intake of vitamin K. For patients who cannot take anticoagulant medications, clopidogrel plus aspirin was compared to aspirin alone in the Atrial Fibrillation Clopidogrel Trial with Irbesartan for Prevention of Vascular Events (ACTIVE-A). Clopidogrel combined with aspirin was more effective than aspirin alone in preventing vascular events, principally stroke, but increases the risk of major bleeding (relative risk 1.57, Image).

The decision to use anticoagulation for primary prevention is based primarily on risk factors (Table 27-3). The history of a TIA or stroke tips the balance in favor of anticoagulation regardless of other risk factors. Since this risk factor is so important, many clinicians are performing extended ambulatory monitoring to detect intermittent atrial fibrillation in otherwise cryptogenic stroke since its detection would shift toward prescription of oral anticoagulation long term.

Because of the high annual stroke risk in untreated rheumatic heart disease with atrial fibrillation, primary prophylaxis against stroke has not been studied in a double-blind fashion. These patients generally should receive long-term anticoagulation.

Anticoagulation also reduces the risk of embolism in acute MI. Most clinicians recommend a 3-month course of anticoagulation when there is anterior Q-wave infarction, substantial left ventricular dysfunction, congestive heart failure, mural thrombosis, or atrial fibrillation. VKAs are recommended long-term if atrial fibrillation persists.

Stroke secondary to thromboembolism is one of the most serious complications of prosthetic heart valve implantation. The intensity of anticoagulation and/or antiplatelet therapy is dictated by the type of prosthetic valve and its location.

If the embolic source cannot be eliminated, anticoagulation should in most cases be continued indefinitely. Many neurologists recommend combining antiplatelet agents with anticoagulants for patients who “fail” anticoagulation (i.e., have another stroke or TIA).

ANTICOAGULATION THERAPY AND NONCARDIOGENIC STROKE Data do not support the use of long-term VKAs for preventing atherothrombotic stroke for either intracranial or extracranial cerebrovascular disease. The Warfarin-Aspirin Reinfarction Stroke Study (WARSS) study found no benefit of warfarin sodium (INR, 1.4–2.8) over aspirin, 325 mg, for secondary prevention of stroke but did find a slightly higher bleeding rate in the warfarin group. A recent European study confirmed this finding. The Warfarin-Aspirin Symptomatic Intracranial Disease (WASID) study (see later) demonstrated no benefit of warfarin (INR, 2–3) over aspirin in patients with symptomatic intracranial atherosclerosis, and also found higher bleeding complications.

TREATMENT Carotid Atherosclerosis

Carotid atherosclerosis can be removed surgically (endarterectomy) or mitigated with endovascular stenting with or without balloon angioplasty. Anticoagulation has not been directly compared with antiplatelet therapy for carotid disease.

SURGICAL THERAPY Symptomatic carotid stenosis was studied in the North American Symptomatic Carotid Endarterectomy Trial (NASCET) and the European Carotid Surgery Trial (ECST). Both showed a substantial benefit for surgery in patients with a stenosis of >70%. In NASCET, the average cumulative ipsilateral stroke risk at 2 years was 26% for patients treated medically and 9% for those receiving the same medical treatment plus a carotid endarterectomy. This 17% absolute reduction in the surgical group is a 65% relative risk reduction favoring surgery (Table 27-4). NASCET also showed a significant, although less robust, benefit for patients with 50–70% stenosis. ECST found harm for patients with stenosis <30% treated surgically.

A patient’s risk of stroke and possible benefit from surgery are related to the presence of retinal versus hemispheric symptoms, degree of arterial stenosis, extent of associated medical conditions (of note, NASCET and ECST excluded “high-risk” patients with significant cardiac, pulmonary, or renal disease), institutional surgical morbidity and mortality, timing of surgery relative to symptoms, and other factors. A recent meta-analysis of the NASCET and ECST trials demonstrated that endarterectomy is most beneficial when performed within 2 weeks of symptom onset. In addition, benefit is more pronounced in patients >75 years, and men appear to benefit more than women.

In summary, a patient with recent symptomatic hemispheric ischemia, high-grade stenosis in the appropriate internal carotid artery, and an institutional perioperative morbidity and mortality rate of <6% generally should undergo carotid endarterectomy. If the perioperative stroke rate is >6% for any particular surgeon, however, the benefits of carotid endarterectomy are questionable.

The indications for surgical treatment of asymptomatic carotid disease have been clarified by the results of the Asymptomatic Carotid Atherosclerosis Study (ACAS) and the Asymptomatic Carotid Surgery Trial (ACST). ACAS randomized asymptomatic patients with >60% stenosis to medical treatment with aspirin or the same medical treatment plus carotid endarterectomy. The surgical group had a risk over 5 years for ipsilateral stroke (and any perioperative stroke or death) of 5.1%, compared to a risk in the medical group of 11%. While this demonstrates a 53% relative risk reduction, the absolute risk reduction is only 5.9% over 5 years, or 1.2% annually (Table 27-4). Nearly one-half of the strokes in the surgery group were caused by preoperative angiograms. The recently published ACST randomized 3120 asymptomatic patients with >60% carotid stenosis to endarterectomy or medical therapy. The 5-year risk of stroke in the surgical group (including perioperative stroke or death) was 6.4%, compared to 11.8% in the medically treated group (46% relative risk reduction and 5.4% absolute risk reduction).

In both ACAS and ACST, the perioperative complication rate was higher in women, perhaps negating any benefit in the reduction of stroke risk within 5 years. It is possible that with longer follow-up, a clear benefit in women will emerge. At present, carotid endarterectomy in asymptomatic women remains particularly controversial.

In summary, the natural history of asymptomatic stenosis is a ~2% per year stroke rate, while symptomatic patients experience a 13% per year risk of stroke. Whether to recommend carotid revascularization for an asymptomatic patient is somewhat controversial and depends on many factors, including patient preference, degree of stenosis, age, gender, and comorbidities. Medical therapy for reduction of atherosclerosis risk factors, including cholesterol-lowering agents and antiplatelet medications, is generally recommended for patients with asymptomatic carotid stenosis. As with atrial fibrillation, it is imperative to counsel the patient about TIAs so that therapy can be revised if symptoms develop.

ENDOVASCULAR THERAPY Balloon angioplasty coupled with stenting is being used with increasing frequency to open stenotic carotid arteries and maintain their patency. These techniques can treat carotid stenosis not only at the bifurcation but also near the skull base and in the intracranial segments. The Stenting and Angioplasty with Protection in Patients at High Risk for Endarterectomy (SAPPHIRE) trial randomized high-risk patients (defined as patients with clinically significant coronary or pulmonary disease, contralateral carotid occlusion, restenosis after endarterectomy, contralateral laryngeal-nerve palsy, prior radical neck surgery or radiation, or age >80) with symptomatic carotid stenosis >50% or asymptomatic stenosis >80% to either stenting combined with a distal emboli-protection device or endarterectomy. The risk of death, stroke, or MI within 30 days and ipsilateral stroke or death within 1 year was 12.2% in the stenting group and 20.1% in the endarterectomy group Image, suggesting that stenting is at the very least comparable to endarterectomy as a treatment option for this patient group at high risk of surgery. However, the outcomes with both interventions may not have been better than leaving the carotid stenoses untreated, particularly for the asymptomatic patients, and much of the benefit seen in the stenting group was due to a reduction in periprocedure MI. In 2010, the results of two randomized trials comparing stents to endarterectomy in low-risk patients were published. The Carotid Revascularization Endarterectomy versus Stenting Trial (CREST) enrolled 2502 patients with either asymptomatic or symptomatic stenosis. The 30-day risk of stroke was 4.1% in the stent group and 2.3% in the surgical group, but the 30-day risk of MI was 1.1% in the stent group and 2.3% in the surgery group, suggesting relative equivalence of risk between the procedures. At median follow-up of 2.5 years, the combined endpoint of stroke, MI, and death was the same (7.2% stent versus 6.8% surgery). The International Carotid Stenting (ICSS) trial randomized 1713 symptomatic patients to stents versus endarterectomy and found a different result: At 120 days, the incidence of stroke, MI, or death was 8.5% in the stenting group versus 5.2% in the endarterectomy group Image, and longer term follow-up is currently under way. Differences between trial designs, selection of stent, and operator experience may explain these important differences. Until more data are available on both trials, there remains controversy as to who should receive a stent or have endarterectomy; it is likely that the procedures carry similar risks if performed by experienced physicians.

BYPASS SURGERY Extracranial-to-intracranial (ECIC) bypass surgery has been proven ineffective for atherosclerotic stenoses that are inaccessible to conventional carotid endarterectomy. However, a trial is under way to evaluate whether patients with decreased brain perfusion based on positron emission tomography (PET) imaging will benefit from EC-IC bypass.

INTRACRANIAL ATHEROSCLEROSIS The WASID trial randomized patients with symptomatic stenosis (50–99%) of a major intracranial vessel to either high-dose aspirin (1300 mg/d) or warfarin (target INR, 2.0–3.0), with a combined primary endpoint of ischemic stroke, brain hemorrhage, or death from vascular cause other than stroke. The trial was terminated early because of an increased risk of adverse events related to warfarin anticoagulation. With a mean follow-up of 1.8 years, the primary endpoint was seen in 22.1% in the aspirin group and 21.8% of the warfarin group. Death from any cause was seen in 4.3% of the aspirin group and 9.7% of the warfarin group; 3.2% of patients on aspirin experienced major hemorrhage, compared to 8.3% of patients taking warfarin.

Given the worrisome natural history of symptomatic intracranial atherosclerosis (in the aspirin arm of the WASID trial, 15% of patients experienced a stroke within the first year, despite current standard aggressive medical therapy), some centers treat symptomatic lesions with intracranial angioplasty and stenting. This intervention is currently being compared to aspirin therapy in a prospective, randomized trial. It is unclear whether EC-IC bypass, or other grafting procedures of extracranial blood supply to the pial arteries, are of value in such patients.

Dural Sinus Thrombosis Limited evidence exists to support short-term usage of anticoagulants, regardless of the presence of intracranial hemorrhage, for venous infarction following sinus thrombosis.


A careful history and neurologic examination can often localize the region of brain dysfunction; if this region corresponds to a particular arterial distribution, the possible causes responsible for the syndrome can be narrowed. This is of particular importance when the patient presents with a TIA and a normal examination. For example, if a patient develops language loss and a right homonymous hemianopia, a search for causes of left middle cerebral emboli should be performed. A finding of an isolated stenosis of the right internal carotid artery in that patient, for example, suggests an asymptomatic carotid stenosis, and the search for other causes of stroke should continue. The following sections describe the clinical findings of cerebral ischemia associated with cerebral vascular territories depicted in Figs. 27-4, and 27-6through 27-14. Stroke syndromes are divided into: (1) large-vessel stroke within the anterior circulation, (2) large-vessel stroke within the posterior circulation, and (3) small-vessel disease of either vascular bed.

Stroke within the anterior circulation

The internal carotid artery and its branches comprise the anterior circulation of the brain. These vessels can be occluded by intrinsic disease of the vessel (e.g., atherosclerosis or dissection) or by embolic occlusion from a proximal source as discussed earlier. Occlusion of each major intracranial vessel has distinct clinical manifestations.

Image Middle cerebral artery

Occlusion of the proximal MCA or one of its major branches is most often due to an embolus (artery-to-artery, cardiac, or of unknown source) rather than intracranial atherothrombosis. Atherosclerosis of the proximal MCA may cause distal emboli to the middle cerebral territory or, less commonly, may produce low-flow TIAs. Collateral formation via leptomeningeal vessels often prevents MCA stenosis from becoming symptomatic.

The cortical branches of the MCA supply the lateral surface of the hemisphere except for (1) the frontal pole and a strip along the superomedial border of the frontal and parietal lobes supplied by the ACA, and (2) the lower temporal and occipital pole convolutions supplied by the PCA (Figs. 27-627-727-8, and 27-9).



Diagram of a cerebral hemisphere in coronal section showing the territories of the major cerebral vessels that branch from the internal carotid arteries.



Diagram of a cerebral hemisphere, lateral aspect, showing the branches and distribution of the middle cerebral artery and the principal regions of cerebral localization. Note the bifurcation of the middle cerebral artery into a superior and inferior division.

Signs and symptoms:

Structures involved Paralysis of the contralateral face, arm, and leg; sensory impairment over the same area (pinprick, cotton touch, vibration, position, two-point discrimination, stereognosis, tactile localization, barognosis, cutaneographia): Somatic motor area for face and arm and the fibers descending from the leg area to enter the corona radiata and corresponding somatic sensory system

Motor aphasia: Motor speech area of the dominant hemisphere

Central aphasia, word deafness, anomia, jargon speech, sensory agraphia, acalculia, alexia, finger agnosia, right-left confusion (the last four comprise the Gerstmann syndrome): Central, suprasylvian speech area and parietooccipital cortex of the dominant hemisphere

Conduction aphasia: Central speech area (parietal operculum) Apractagnosia of the nondominant hemisphere, anosognosia, hemiasomatognosia, unilateral neglect, agnosia for the left half of external space, dressing “apraxia,” constructional “apraxia,” distortion of visual coordinates, inaccurate localization in the half field, impaired ability to judge distance, upside-down reading, visual illusions (e.g., it may appear that another person walks through a table): Nondominant parietal lobe (area corresponding to speech area in dominant hemisphere); loss of topographic memory is usually due to a nondominant lesion, occasionally to a dominant one

Homonymous hemianopia (often homonymous inferior quadrantanopia): Optic radiation deep to second temporal convolution

Paralysis of conjugate gaze to the opposite side: Frontal contraversive eye field or projecting fibers



Diagram of a cerebral hemisphere, medial aspect, showing the branches and distribution of the anterior cerebral artery and the principal regions of cerebral localization.

Signs and symptoms: Structures involved

Paralysis of opposite foot and leg: Motor leg area

A lesser degree of paresis of opposite arm: Arm area of cortex or fibers descending to corona radiata

Cortical sensory loss over toes, foot, and leg: Sensory area for foot and leg

Urinary incontinence: Sensorimotor area in paracentral lobule

Contralateral grasp reflex, sucking reflex, gegenhalten (paratonic rigidity): Medial surface of the posterior frontal lobe; likely supplemental motor area

Abulia (akinetic mutism), slowness, delay, intermittent interruption, lack of spontaneity, whispering, reflex distraction to sights and sounds: Uncertain localization—probably cingulate gyrus and medial inferior portion of frontal, parietal, and temporal lobes

Impairment of gait and stance (gait apraxia): Frontal cortex near leg motor area

Dyspraxia of left limbs, tactile aphasia in left limbs: Corpus callosum



Inferior aspect of the brain with the branches and distribution of the posterior cerebral artery and the principal anatomic structures shown.

Signs and symptoms: Structures involved

Peripheral territory (see also Fig. 27-12). Homonymous hemianopia (often upper quadrantic): Calcarine cortex or optic radiation nearby. Bilateral homonymous hemianopia, cortical blindness, awareness or denial of blindness; tactile naming, achromatopia (color blindness), failure to see to-and-fro movements, inability to perceive objects not centrally located, apraxia of ocular movements, inability to count or enumerate objects, tendency to run into things that the patient sees and tries to avoid: Bilateral occipital lobe with possibly the parietal lobe involved. Verbal dyslexia without agraphia, color anomia: Dominant calcarine lesion and posterior part of corpus callosum. Memory defect: Hippocampal lesion bilaterally or on the dominant side only. Topographic disorientation and prosopagnosia: Usually with lesions of nondominant, calcarine, and lingual gyrus. Simultanagnosia, hemivisual neglect: Dominant visual cortex, contralateral hemisphere. Unformed visual hallucinations, peduncular hallucinosis, metamorphopsia, teleopsia, illusory visual spread, palinopsia, distortion of outlines, central photophobia: Calcarine cortex. Complex hallucinations: Usually nondominant hemisphere.

Central territory. Thalamic syndrome: sensory loss (all modalities), spontaneous pain and dysesthesias, choreoathetosis, intention tremor, spasms of hand, mild hemiparesis: Posteroventral nucleus of thalamus; involvement of the adjacent subthalamus body or its afferent tracts. Thalamoperforate syndrome: crossed cerebellar ataxia with ipsilateral third nerve palsy (Claude’s syndrome): Dentatothalamic tract and issuing third nerve. Weber’s syndrome: third nerve palsy and contralateral hemiplegia: Third nerve and cerebral peduncle. Contralateral hemiplegia: Cerebral peduncle. Paralysis or paresis of vertical eye movement, skew deviation, sluggish pupillary responses to light, slight miosis and ptosis (retraction nystagmus and “tucking” of the eyelids may be associated): Supranuclear fibers to third nerve, interstitial nucleus of Cajal, nucleus of Darkschewitsch, and posterior commissure. Contralateral rhythmic, ataxic action tremor; rhythmic postural or “holding” tremor (rubral tremor): Dentatothalamic tract.

The proximal MCA (M1 segment) gives rise to penetrating branches (termed lenticulostriate arteries) that supply the putamen, outer globus pallidus, posterior limb of the internal capsule, the adjacent corona radiata, and most of the caudate nucleus (Fig. 27-6). In the sylvian fissure, the MCA in most patients divides into superior and inferior divisions (M2 branches). Branches of the inferior division supply the inferior parietal and temporal cortex, and those from the superior division supply the frontal and superior parietal cortex (Fig. 27-7).

If the entire MCA is occluded at its origin (blocking both its penetrating and cortical branches) and the distal collaterals are limited, the clinical findings are contralateral hemiplegia, hemianesthesia, homonymous hemianopia, and a day or two of gaze preference to the ipsilateral side. Dysarthria is common because of facial weakness. When the dominant hemisphere is involved, global aphasia is present also, and when the nondominant hemisphere is affected, anosognosia, constructional apraxia, and neglect are found (Chap. 18).

Complete MCA syndromes occur most often when an embolus occludes the stem of the artery. Cortical collateral blood flow and differing arterial configurations are probably responsible for the development of many partial syndromes. Partial syndromes may also be due to emboli that enter the proximal MCA without complete occlusion, occlude distal MCA branches, or fragment and move distally.

Partial syndromes due to embolic occlusion of a single branch include hand, or arm and hand, weakness alone (brachial syndrome) or facial weakness with nonfluent (Broca) aphasia (Chap. 18), with or without arm weakness (frontal opercular syndrome). A combination of sensory disturbance, motor weakness, and nonfluent aphasia suggests that an embolus has occluded the proximal superior division and infarcted large portions of the frontal and parietal cortices (Fig. 27-7). If a fluent (Wernicke’s) aphasia occurs without weakness, the inferior division of the MCA supplying the posterior part (temporal cortex) of the dominant hemisphere is probably involved. Jargon speech and an inability to comprehend written and spoken language are prominent features, often accompanied by a contralateral, homonymous superior quadrantanopia. Hemineglect or spatial agnosia without weakness indicates that the inferior division of the MCA in the nondominant hemisphere is involved.

Occlusion of a lenticulostriate vessel produces small-vessel (lacunar) stroke within the internal capsule (Fig. 27-6). This produces pure motor stroke or sensory-motor stroke contralateral to the lesion. Ischemia within the genu of the internal capsule causes primarily facial weakness followed by arm then leg weakness as the ischemia moves posterior within the capsule. Alternatively, the contralateral hand may become ataxic and dysarthria will be prominent (clumsy hand, dysarthria lacunar syndrome). Lacunar infarction affecting the globus pallidus and putamen often has few clinical signs, but parkinsonism and hemiballismus have been reported.

Image Anterior cerebral artery

The ACA is divided into two segments: the precommunal (A1) circle of Willis, or stem, which connects the internal carotid artery to the anterior communicating artery, and the postcommunal (A2) segment distal to the anterior communicating artery (Figs. 27-427-6, and 27-8). The A1 segment gives rise to several deep penetrating branches that supply the anterior limb of the internal capsule, the anterior perforate substance, amygdala, anterior hypothalamus, and the inferior part of the head of the caudate nucleus (Fig. 27-6).

Occlusion of the proximal ACA is usually well tolerated because of collateral flow through the anterior communicating artery and collaterals through the MCA and PCA. Occlusion of a single A2 segment results in the contralateral symptoms noted in Fig. 27-8. If both A2 segments arise from a single anterior cerebral stem (contralateral A1 segment atresia), the occlusion may affect both hemispheres. Profound abulia (a delay in verbal and motor response) and bilateral pyramidal signs with paraparesis or quadriparesis and urinary incontinence result.

Image Anterior choroidal artery

This artery arises from the internal carotid artery and supplies the posterior limb of the internal capsule and the white matter posterolateral to it, through which pass some of the geniculocalcarine fibers (Fig. 27-9). The complete syndrome of anterior choroidal artery occlusion consists of contralateral hemiplegia, hemianesthesia (hypesthesia), and homonymous hemianopia. However, because this territory is also supplied by penetrating vessels of the proximal MCA and the posterior communicating and posterior choroidal arteries, minimal deficits may occur, and patients frequently recover substantially. Anterior choroidal strokes are usually the result of in situ thrombosis of the vessel, and the vessel is particularly vulnerable to iatrogenic occlusion during surgical clipping of aneurysms arising from the internal carotid artery.

Image Internal carotid artery

The clinical picture of internal carotid occlusion varies depending on whether the cause of ischemia is propagated thrombus, embolism, or low flow. The cortex supplied by the MCA territory is affected most often. With a competent circle of Willis, occlusion may go unnoticed. If the thrombus propagates up the internal carotid artery into the MCA or embolizes it, symptoms are identical to proximal MCA occlusion (see earlier). Sometimes there is massive infarction of the entire deep white matter and cortical surface. When the origins of both the ACA and MCA are occluded at the top of the carotid artery, abulia or stupor occurs with hemiplegia, hemianesthesia, and aphasia or anosognosia. When the PCA arises from the internal carotid artery (a configuration called a fetal posterior cerebral artery), it may also become occluded and give rise to symptoms referable to its peripheral territory (Figs. 27-8 and 27-9).

In addition to supplying the ipsilateral brain, the internal carotid artery perfuses the optic nerve and retina via the ophthalmic artery. In ~25% of symptomatic internal carotid disease, recurrent transient monocular blindness (amaurosis fugax) warns of the lesion. Patients typically describe a horizontal shade that sweeps down or up across the field of vision. They may also complain that their vision was blurred in that eye or that the upper or lower half of vision disappeared. In most cases, these symptoms last only a few minutes. Rarely, ischemia or infarction of the ophthalmic artery or central retinal arteries occurs at the time of cerebral TIA or infarction.

A high-pitched prolonged carotid bruit fading into diastole is often associated with tightly stenotic lesions. As the stenosis grows tighter and flow distal to the stenosis becomes reduced, the bruit becomes fainter and may disappear when occlusion is imminent.

Image Common carotid artery

All symptoms and signs of internal carotid occlusion may also be present with occlusion of the common carotid artery. Jaw claudication may result from low flow in the external carotid branches. Bilateral common carotid artery occlusions at their origin may occur in Takayasu’s arteritis.

Stroke within the posterior circulation

The posterior circulation is composed of the paired vertebral arteries, the basilar artery, and the paired posterior cerebral arteries. The vertebral arteries join to form the basilar artery at the pontomedullary junction. The basilar artery divides into two posterior cerebral arteries in the interpeduncular fossa (Figs. 27-427-8, and 27-9). These major arteries give rise to long and short circumferential branches and to smaller deep penetrating branches that supply the cerebellum, medulla, pons, midbrain, subthalamus, thalamus, hippocampus, and medial temporal and occipital lobes. Occlusion of each vessel produces its own distinctive syndrome.

Image Posterior cerebral artery

In 75% of cases, both PCAs arise from the bifurcation of the basilar artery; in 20%, one has its origin from the ipsilateral internal carotid artery via the posterior communicating artery; in 5%, both originate from the respective ipsilateral internal carotid arteries (Figs. 27-8 and 27-9). The precommunal, or P1, segment of the true posterior cerebral artery is atretic in such cases.

PCA syndromes usually result from atheroma formation or emboli that lodge at the top of the basilar artery; posterior circulation disease may also be caused by dissection of either vertebral artery and fibromuscular dysplasia.

Two clinical syndromes are commonly observed with occlusion of the PCA: (1) P1 syndrome: midbrain, subthalamic, and thalamic signs, which are due to disease of the proximal P1 segment of the PCA or its penetrating branches (thalamogeniculate, Percheron, and posterior choroidal arteries); and (2) P2 syndrome: cortical temporal and occipital lobe signs, due to occlusion of the P2 segment distal to the junction of the PCA with the posterior communicating artery.

Image P1 syndromes

Infarction usually occurs in the ipsilateral subthalamus and medial thalamus and in the ipsilateral cerebral peduncle and midbrain (Figs. 27-9 and 27-14). A third nerve palsy with contralateral ataxia (Claude’s syndrome) or with contralateral hemiplegia (Weber’s syndrome) may result. The ataxia indicates involvement of the red nucleus or dentatorubrothalamic tract; the hemiplegia is localized to the cerebral peduncle (Fig. 27-14). If the subthalamic nucleus is involved, contralateral hemiballismus may occur. Occlusion of the artery of Percheron produces paresis of upward gaze and drowsiness, and often abulia. Extensive infarction in the midbrain and subthalamus occurring with bilateral proximal PCA occlusion presents as coma, unreactive pupils, bilateral pyramidal signs, and decerebrate rigidity.

Occlusion of the penetrating branches of thalamic and thalamogeniculate arteries produces less extensive thalamic and thalamocapsular lacunar syndromes. The thalamic Déjérine-Roussy syndrome consists of contralateral hemisensory loss followed later by an agonizing, searing or burning pain in the affected areas. It is persistent and responds poorly to analgesics. Anticonvulsants (carbamazepine or gabapentin) or tricyclic antidepressants may be beneficial.

Image P2 syndromes

(See also Figs. 27-8 and 27-9.) Occlusion of the distal PCA causes infarction of the medial temporal and occipital lobes. Contralateral homonymous hemianopia with macula sparing is the usual manifestation. Occasionally, only the upper quadrant of visual field is involved. If the visual association areas are spared and only the calcarine cortex is involved, the patient may be aware of visual defects. Medial temporal lobe and hippocampal involvement may cause an acute disturbance in memory, particularly if it occurs in the dominant hemisphere. The defect usually clears because memory has bilateral representation. If the dominant hemisphere is affected and the infarct extends to involve the splenium of the corpus callosum, the patient may demonstrate alexia without agraphia. Visual agnosia for faces, objects, mathematical symbols, and colors and anomia with paraphasic errors (amnestic aphasia) may also occur in this setting, even without callosal involvement. Occlusion of the posterior cerebral artery can produce peduncular hallucinosis (visual hallucinations of brightly colored scenes and objects).

Bilateral infarction in the distal PCAs produces cortical blindness (blindness with preserved pupillary light reaction). The patient is often unaware of the blindness or may even deny it (Anton’s syndrome). Tiny islands of vision may persist, and the patient may report that vision fluctuates as images are captured in the preserved portions. Rarely, only peripheral vision is lost and central vision is spared, resulting in “gun-barrel” vision. Bilateral visual association area lesions may result in Balint’s syndrome, a disorder of the orderly visual scanning of the environment (Chap. 18), usually resulting from infarctions secondary to low flow in the “watershed” between the distal PCA and MCA territories, as occurs after cardiac arrest. Patients may experience persistence of a visual image for several minutes despite gazing at another scene (palinopsia) or an inability to synthesize the whole of an image (asimultanagnosia). Embolic occlusion of the top of the basilar artery can produce any or all of the central or peripheral territory symptoms. The hallmark is the sudden onset of bilateral signs, including ptosis, pupillary asymmetry or lack of reaction to light, and somnolence.

Image Vertebral and posterior inferior cerebellar arteries

The vertebral artery, which arises from the innominate artery on the right and the subclavian artery on the left, consists of four segments. The first (V1) extends from its origin to its entrance into the sixth or fifth transverse vertebral foramen. The second segment (V2) traverses the vertebral foramina from C6 to C2. The third (V3) passes through the transverse foramen and circles around the arch of the atlas to pierce the dura at the foramen magnum. The fourth (V4) segment courses upward to join the other vertebral artery to form the basilar artery; only the fourth segment gives rise to branches that supply the brainstem and cerebellum. The posterior inferior cerebellar artery (PICA) in its proximal segment supplies the lateral medulla and, in its distal branches, the inferior surface of the cerebellum.

Atherothrombotic lesions have a predilection for V1 and V4 segments of the vertebral artery. The first segment may become diseased at the origin of the vessel and may produce posterior circulation emboli; collateral flow from the contralateral vertebral artery or the ascending cervical, thyrocervical, or occipital arteries is usually sufficient to prevent low-flow TIAs or stroke. When one vertebral artery is atretic and an atherothrombotic lesion threatens the origin of the other, the collateral circulation, which may also include retrograde flow down the basilar artery, is often insufficient (Figs. 27-4 and 27-9). In this setting, low-flow TIAs may occur, consisting of syncope, vertigo, and alternating hemiplegia; this state also sets the stage for thrombosis. Disease of the distal fourth segment of the vertebral artery can promote thrombus formation manifest as embolism or with propagation as basilar artery thrombosis. Stenosis proximal to the origin of the PICA can threaten the lateral medulla and posterior inferior surface of the cerebellum.

If the subclavian artery is occluded proximal to the origin of the vertebral artery, there is a reversal in the direction of blood flow in the ipsilateral vertebral artery. Exercise of the ipsilateral arm may increase demand on vertebral flow, producing posterior circulation TIAs, or “subclavian steal.”

Although atheromatous disease rarely narrows the second and third segments of the vertebral artery, this region is subject to dissection, fibromuscular dysplasia, and, rarely, encroachment by osteophytic spurs within the vertebral foramina.

Embolic occlusion or thrombosis of a V4 segment causes ischemia of the lateral medulla. The constellation of vertigo, numbness of the ipsilateral face and contralateral limbs, diplopia, hoarseness, dysarthria, dysphagia, and ipsilateral Horner’s syndrome is called the lateral medullary (or Wallenberg’s) syndrome(Fig. 27-10). Most cases result from ipsilateral vertebral artery occlusion; in the remainder, PICA occlusion is responsible. Occlusion of the medullary penetrating branches of the vertebral artery or PICA results in partial syndromes. Hemiparesis is not a feature of vertebral artery occlusion; however, quadriparesis may result from occlusion of the anterior spinal artery.


FIGURE 27-10

Axial section at the level of the medulla, depicted schematically on the left, with a corresponding MR image on the right. Note that in Figs. 27-10 through 27-14, all drawings are oriented with the dorsal surface at the bottom, matching the orientation of the brainstem that is commonly seen in all modern neuroimaging studies. Approximate regions involved in medial and lateral medullary stroke syndromes are shown.

Signs and symptoms: Structures involved

1. Medial medullary syndrome (occlusion of vertebral artery or of branch of vertebral or lower basilar artery)

On side of lesion

Paralysis with atrophy of one-half half the tongue: Ipsilateral twelfth nerve

On side opposite lesion

Paralysis of arm and leg, sparing face; impaired tactile and proprioceptive sense over one-half the body: Contralateral pyramidal tract and medial lemniscus

2. Lateral medullary syndrome (occlusion of any of five vessels may be responsible—vertebral, posterior inferior cerebellar, superior, middle, or inferior lateral medullary arteries)

On side of lesion

Pain, numbness, impaired sensation over one-half the face: Descending tract and nucleus fifth nerve Ataxia of limbs, falling to side of lesion: Uncertain—restiform body, cerebellar hemisphere, cerebellar fibers, spinocerebellar tract (?)

Nystagmus, diplopia, oscillopsia, vertigo, nausea, vomiting: Vestibular nucleus

Horner’s syndrome (miosis, ptosis, decreased sweating): Descending sympathetic tract Dysphagia, hoarseness, paralysis of palate, paralysis of vocal cord, diminished gag reflex: Issuing fibers ninth and tenth nerves Loss of taste: Nucleus and tractus solitarius Numbness of ipsilateral arm, trunk, or leg: Cuneate and gracile nuclei Weakness of lower face: Genuflected upper motor neuron fibers to ipsilateral facial nucleus

On side opposite lesion

Impaired pain and thermal sense over half the body, sometimes face: Spinothalamic tract

3. Total unilateral medullary syndrome (occlusion of vertebral artery): Combination of medial and lateral syndromes

4. Lateral pontomedullary syndrome (occlusion of vertebral artery): Combination of lateral medullary and lateral inferior pontine syndrome

5. Basilar artery syndrome (the syndrome of the lone vertebral artery is equivalent): A combination of the various brainstem syndromes plus those arising in the posterior cerebral artery distribution.

Bilateral long tract signs (sensory and motor; cerebellar and peripheral cranial nerve abnormalities): Bilateral long tract; cerebellar and peripheral cranial nerves Paralysis or weakness of all extremities, plus all bulbar musculature: Corticobulbar and corticospinal tracts bilaterally

Rarely, a medial medullary syndrome occurs with infarction of the pyramid and contralateral hemiparesis of the arm and leg, sparing the face. If the medial lemniscus and emerging hypoglossal nerve fibers are involved, contralateral loss of joint position sense and ipsilateral tongue weakness occur.

Cerebellar infarction with edema can lead to sudden respiratory arrest due to raised ICP in the posterior fossa. Drowsiness, Babinski signs, dysarthria, and bifacial weakness may be absent, or present only briefly, before respiratory arrest ensues. Gait unsteadiness, headache, dizziness, nausea, and vomiting may be the only early symptoms and signs and should arouse suspicion of this impending complication, which may require neurosurgical decompression, often with an excellent outcome.

Separating these symptoms from those of viral labyrinthitis can be a challenge, but headache, neck stiffness, and unilateral dysmetria favor stroke.

Image Basilar artery

Branches of the basilar artery supply the base of the pons and superior cerebellum and fall into three groups: (1) paramedian, 7–10 in number, which supply a wedge of pons on either side of the midline; (2) short circumferential, 5–7 in number, that supply the lateral two-thirds of the pons and middle and superior cerebellar peduncles; and (3) bilateral long circumferential (superior cerebellar and anterior inferior cerebellar arteries), which course around the pons to supply the cerebellar hemispheres.

Atheromatous lesions can occur anywhere along the basilar trunk but are most frequent in the proximal basilar and distal vertebral segments. Typically, lesions occlude either the proximal basilar and one or both vertebral arteries. The clinical picture varies depending on the availability of retrograde collateral flow from the posterior communicating arteries. Rarely, dissection of a vertebral artery may involve the basilar artery and, depending on the location of true and false lumen, may produce multiple penetrating artery strokes.

Although atherothrombosis occasionally occludes the distal portion of the basilar artery, emboli from the heart or proximal vertebral or basilar segments are more commonly responsible for “top of the basilar” syndromes.

Because the brainstem contains many structures in close apposition, a diversity of clinical syndromes may emerge with ischemia, reflecting involvement of the corticospinal and corticobulbar tracts, ascending sensory tracts, and cranial nerve nuclei (Figs. 27-1127-1227-13, and 27-14).


FIGURE 27-11

Axial section at the level of the inferior pons, depicted schematically on the left, with a corresponding MR image on the right. Approximate regions involved in medial and lateral inferior pontine stroke syndromes are shown.

Signs and symptoms: Structures involved

1. Medial inferior pontine syndrome (occlusion of paramedian branch of basilar artery)

On side of lesion

Paralysis of conjugate gaze to side of lesion (preservation of convergence): Center for conjugate lateral gaze

Nystagmus: Vestibular nucleus

Ataxia of limbs and gait: Likely middle cerebellar peduncle

Diplopia on lateral gaze: Abducens nerve

On side opposite lesion

Paralysis of face, arm, and leg: Corticobulbar and corticospinal tract in lower pons

Impaired tactile and proprioceptive sense over one-half of the body: Medial lemniscus

2. Lateral inferior pontine syndrome (occlusion of anterior inferior cerebellar artery)

On side of lesion

Horizontal and vertical nystagmus, vertigo, nausea, vomiting, oscillopsia: Vestibular nerve or nucleus Facial paralysis: Seventh nerve

Paralysis of conjugate gaze to side of lesion: Center for conjugate lateral gaze

Deafness, tinnitus: Auditory nerve or cochlear nucleus

Ataxia: Middle cerebellar peduncle and cerebellar hemisphere

Impaired sensation over face: Descending tract and nucleus fifth nerve

On side opposite lesion

Impaired pain and thermal sense over one-half the body (may include face): Spinothalamic tract


FIGURE 27-12

Axial section at the level of the midpons, depicted schematically on the left, with a corresponding MR image on the right. Approximate regions involved in medial and lateral midpontine stroke syndromes are shown.

Signs and symptoms: Structures involved

1. Medial midpontine syndrome (paramedian branch of midbasilar artery)

On side of lesion

Ataxia of limbs and gait (more prominent in bilateral involvement): Pontine nuclei

On side opposite lesion

Paralysis of face, arm, and leg: Corticobulbar and corticospinal tract

Variable impaired touch and proprioception when lesion extends posteriorly: Medial lemniscus

2. Lateral midpontine syndrome (short circumferential artery)

On side of lesion

Ataxia of limbs: Middle cerebellar peduncle

Paralysis of muscles of mastication: Motor fibers or nucleus of fifth nerve

Impaired sensation over side of face: Sensory fibers or nucleus of fifth nerve

On side opposite lesion

Impaired pain and thermal sense on limbs and trunk: Spinothalamic tract


FIGURE 27-13

Axial section at the level of the superior pons, depicted schematically on the left, with a corresponding MR image on the right. Approximate regions involved in medial and lateral superior pontine stroke syndromes are shown.


FIGURE 27-14

Axial section at the level of the midbrain, depicted schematically on the left, with a corresponding MR image on the right. Approximate regions involved in medial and lateral midbrain stroke syndromes are shown.

Signs and symptomsStructures involved

1. Medial superior pontine syndrome (paramedian branches of upper basilar artery)

On side of lesion

Cerebellar ataxia (probably): Superior and/or middle cerebellar peduncle Internuclear ophthalmoplegia: Medial longitudinal fasciculus

Myoclonic syndrome, palate, pharynx, vocal cords, respiratory apparatus, face, oculomotor apparatus, etc.: Localization uncertain—central tegmental bundle, dentate projection, inferior olivary nucleus

On side opposite lesion

Paralysis of face, arm, and leg: Corticobulbar and corticospinal tract

Rarely touch, vibration, and position are affected: Medial lemniscus

2. Lateral superior pontine syndrome (syndrome of superior cerebellar artery)

On side of lesion

Ataxia of limbs and gait, falling to side of lesion: Middle and superior cerebellar peduncles, superior surface of cerebellum, dentate nucleus

Dizziness, nausea, vomiting; horizontal nystagmus: Vestibular nucleus

Paresis of conjugate gaze (ipsilateral): Pontine contralateral gaze

Skew deviation: Uncertain

Miosis, ptosis, decreased sweating over face (Horner’s syndrome): Descending sympathetic fibers Tremor: Localization unclear—Dentate nucleus, superior cerebellar peduncle

On side opposite lesion

Impaired pain and thermal sense on face, limbs, and trunk: Spinothalamic tract

Impaired touch, vibration, and position sense, more in leg than arm (there is a tendency to incongruity of pain and touch deficits): Medial lemniscus (lateral portion)

The symptoms of transient ischemia or infarction in the territory of the basilar artery often do not indicate whether the basilar artery itself or one of its branches is diseased, yet this distinction has important implications for therapy. The picture of complete basilar occlusion, however, is easy to recognize as a constellation of bilateral long tract signs (sensory and motor) with signs of cranial nerve and cerebellar dysfunction. A “locked-in” state of preserved consciousness with quadriplegia and cranial nerve signs suggests complete pontine and lower midbrain infarction. The therapeutic goal is to identify impendingbasilar occlusion before devastating infarction occurs. A series of TIAs and a slowly progressive, fluctuating stroke are extremely significant, as they often herald an atherothrombotic occlusion of the distal vertebral or proximal basilar artery.

TIAs in the proximal basilar distribution may produce vertigo (often described by patients as “swimming,” “swaying,” “moving,” “unsteadiness,” or “light-headedness”). Other symptoms that warn of basilar thrombosis include diplopia, dysarthria, facial or circumoral numbness, and hemisensory symptoms. In general, symptoms of basilar branch TIAs affect one side of the brainstem, whereas symptoms of basilar artery TIAs usually affect both sides, although a “herald” hemiparesis has been emphasized as an initial symptom of basilar occlusion. Most often TIAs, whether due to impending occlusion of the basilar artery or a basilar branch, are short lived (5–30 min) and repetitive, occurring several times a day. The pattern suggests intermittent reduction of flow. Many neurologists treat with heparin to prevent clot propagation.

Atherothrombotic occlusion of the basilar artery with infarction usually causes bilateral brainstem signs. A gaze paresis or internuclear ophthalmoplegia associated with ipsilateral hemiparesis may be the only manifestation of bilateral brainstem ischemia. More often, unequivocal signs of bilateral pontine disease are present. Complete basilar thrombosis carries a high mortality.

Occlusion of a branch of the basilar artery usually causes unilateral symptoms and signs involving motor, sensory, and cranial nerves. As long as symptoms remain unilateral, concern over pending basilar occlusion should be reduced.

Occlusion of the superior cerebellar artery results in severe ipsilateral cerebellar ataxia, nausea and vomiting, dysarthria, and contralateral loss of pain and temperature sensation over the extremities, body, and face (spino-and trigeminothalamic tracts). Partial deafness, ataxic tremor of the ipsilateral upper extremity, Horner’s syndrome, and palatal myoclonus may occur rarely. Partial syndromes occur frequently (Fig. 27-13). With large strokes, swelling and mass effects may compress the midbrain or produce hydrocephalus; these symptoms may evolve rapidly. Neurosurgical intervention may be lifesaving in such cases.

Occlusion of the anterior inferior cerebellar artery produces variable degrees of infarction because the size of this artery and the territory it supplies vary inversely with those of the PICA. The principal symptoms include: (1) ipsilateral deafness, facial weakness, vertigo, nausea and vomiting, nystagmus, tinnitus, cerebellar ataxia, Horner’s syndrome, and paresis of conjugate lateral gaze; and (2) contralateral loss of pain and temperature sensation. An occlusion close to the origin of the artery may cause corticospinal tract signs (Fig. 27-11).

Occlusion of one of the short circumferential branches of the basilar artery affects the lateral two-thirds of the pons and middle or superior cerebellar peduncle, whereas occlusion of one of the paramedian branches affects a wedge-shaped area on either side of the medial pons (Figs. 27-11 through 27-13).


See also Chap. 4.

CT scans

CT radiographic images identify or exclude hemorrhage as the cause of stroke, and they identify extraparenchymal hemorrhages, neoplasms, abscesses, and other conditions masquerading as stroke. Brain CT scans obtained in the first several hours after an infarction generally show no abnormality, and the infarct may not be seen reliably for 24–48 h. CT may fail to show small ischemic strokes in the posterior fossa because of bone artifact; small infarcts on the cortical surface may also be missed.

Contrast-enhanced CT scans add specificity by showing contrast enhancement of subacute infarcts and allow visualization of venous structures. Coupled with newer generation multidetector scanners, CT angiography (CTA) can be performed with administration of IV iodinated contrast allowing visualization of the cervical and intracranial arteries, intracranial veins, aortic arch, and even the coronary arteries in one imaging session. Carotid disease and intracranial vascular occlusions are readily identified with this method (Fig. 27-3). After an IV bolus of contrast, deficits in brain perfusion produced by vascular occlusion can also be demonstrated (Fig. 27-15) and used to predict the region of infarcted brain and the brain at risk of further infarction (i.e., the ischemic penumbra, see “Pathophysiology of Ischemic Stroke”). CT imaging is also sensitive for detecting SAH (though by itself does not rule it out), and CTA can readily identify intracranial aneurysms (Chap. 28). Because of its speed and wide availability, noncontrast head CT is the imaging modality of choice in patients with acute stroke (Fig. 27-1), and CTA and CT perfusion imaging may also be useful and convenient adjuncts.



FIGURE 27-15

Acute left middle cerebral artery (MCA) stroke with right hemiplegia but preserved language. A. CT perfusion mean-transit time map showing delayed perfusion of the left MCA distribution (blue). B. Predicted region of infarct (red) and penumbra (green) based on CT perfusion data. C. Conventional angiogram showing occlusion of the left internal carotid–MCA bifurcation (left panel), and revascularization of the vessels following successful thrombectomy 8 h after stroke symptom onset (right panel). D. The clot removed with a thrombectomy device (L5, Concentric Medical, Inc.). E. CT scan of the brain 2 days later; note infarction in the region predicted in B but preservation of the penumbral region by successful revascularization.

Signs and symptoms: Structures involved

1. Medial midbrain syndrome (paramedian branches of upper basilar and proximal posterior cerebral arteries) On side of lesion

Eye “down and out” secondary to unopposed action of fourth and sixth cranial nerves, with dilated and unresponsive pupil: Third nerve fibers

On side opposite lesion

Paralysis of face, arm, and leg: Corticobulbar and corticospinal tract descending in crus cerebri

2. Lateral midbrain syndrome (syndrome of small penetrating arteries arising from posterior cerebral artery)

On side of lesion

Eye “down and out” secondary to unopposed action of fourth and sixth cranial nerves, with dilated and unresponsive pupil: Third nerve fibers and/or third nerve nucleus

On side opposite lesion

Hemiataxia, hyperkinesias, tremor: Red nucleus, dentatorubrothalamic pathway


MRI reliably documents the extent and location of infarction in all areas of the brain, including the posterior fossa and cortical surface. It also identifies intracranial hemorrhage and other abnormalities but is less sensitive than CT for detecting acute blood. MRI scanners with magnets of higher field strength produce more reliable and precise images. Diffusion-weighted imaging is more sensitive for early brain infarction than standard MR sequences or CT (Fig. 27-16), as is fluid-attenuated inversion recovery (FLAIR) imaging (Chap. 4). Using IV administration of gadolinium contrast, MR perfusion studies can be performed. Brain regions showing poor perfusion but no abnormality on diffusion are equivalent measure of the ischemic penumbra (see “Pathophysiology of Ischemic Stroke” and Fig. 27-16), and patients showing large regions of mismatch may be better candidates for acute revascularization. MR angiography is highly sensitive for stenosis of extracranial internal carotid arteries and of large intracranial vessels. With higher degrees of stenosis, MR angiography tends to overestimate the degree of stenosis when compared to conventional x-ray angiography. MRI with fat saturation is an imaging sequence used to visualize extra or intracranial arterial dissection. This sensitive technique images clotted blood within the dissected vessel wall.


FIGURE 27-16

MRI of acute stroke. A. MRI diffusion-weighted image (DWI) of an 82-year-old woman 2.5 h after onset of right-sided weakness and aphasia reveals restricted diffusion within the left basal ganglia and internal capsule (colored regions). B. Perfusion defect within the left hemisphere (colored signal) imaged after administration of an IV bolus of gadolinium contrast. The discrepancy between the region of poor perfusion shown in B and the diffusion deficit shown in A is called diffusion-perfusion mismatch and provides an estimate of the ischemic penumbra. Without specific therapy the region of infarction will expand into much or all of the perfusion deficit. C. Cerebral angiogram of the left internal carotid artery in this patient before (left) and after (right) successful endovascular embolectomy. The occlusion is within the carotid terminus. D. FLAIR image obtained 3 days later showing a region of infarction (coded as white) that corresponds to the initial DWI image in A, but not the entire area at risk shown in B,suggesting that successful embolectomy saved a large region of brain tissue from infarction. (Courtesy of Gregory Albers, MD, Stanford University; with permission.)

MRI is less sensitive for acute blood products than CT and is more expensive and time consuming and less readily available. Claustrophobia also limits its application. Most acute stroke protocols use CT because of these limitations. However, MRI is useful outside the acute period by more clearly defining the extent of tissue injury and discriminating new from old regions of brain infarction. MRI may have particular utility in patients with TIA. It is also more likely to identify new infarction, which is a strong predictor of subsequent stroke.

Cerebral angiography

Conventional x-ray cerebral angiography is the gold standard for identifying and quantifying atherosclerotic stenoses of the cerebral arteries and for identifying and characterizing other pathologies, including aneurysms, vasospasm, intraluminal thrombi, fibromuscular dysplasia, arteriovenous fistula, vasculitis, and collateral channels of blood flow. Endovascular techniques, which are evolving rapidly, can be used to deploy stents within delicate intracranial vessels, to perform balloon angioplasty of stenotic lesions, to treat intracranial aneurysms by embolization, and to open occluded vessels in acute stroke with mechanical thrombectomy devices. Randomized trials support use of thrombolytic agents delivered intraarterially in patients with acute MCA stroke by showing that vessels are effectively recanalized and clinical outcomes are improved at 90 days. Cerebral angiography coupled with endovascular techniques for cerebral revascularization are becoming routine in the United States and Europe and likely soon in Japan. Centers capable of these techniques are termed comprehensive stroke centers to distinguish them from primary stroke centers that can administer IV rtPA but not perform endovascular therapy. Conventional angiography carries risks of arterial damage, groin hemorrhage, embolic stroke, and renal failure from contrast nephropathy, so it should be reserved for situations where less invasive means are inadequate.

Ultrasound techniques

Stenosis at the origin of the internal carotid artery can be identified and quantified reliably by ultrasonography that combines a B-mode ultrasound image with a Doppler ultrasound assessment of flow velocity (“duplex” ultrasound). Transcranial Doppler (TCD) assessment of MCA, ACA, and PCA flow and of vertebrobasilar flow is also useful. This latter technique can detect stenotic lesions in the large intracranial arteries because such lesions increase systolic flow velocity. Furthermore, TCD can assist thrombolysis and improve large artery recanalization following rtPA administration; the potential clinical benefit of this treatment is the subject of ongoing study. In many cases, MR angiography combined with carotid and transcranial ultrasound studies eliminates the need for conventional x-ray angiography in evaluating vascular stenosis. Alternatively, CT angiography of the entire head and neck can be performed during the initial imaging of acute stroke. Because this images the entire arterial system relevant to stroke, with the exception of the heart, much of the clinician’s stroke workup can be completed with this single imaging study.

Perfusion techniques

Both xenon techniques (principally xenon-CT) and PET can quantify cerebral blood flow. These tools are generally used for research (Chap.4) but can be useful for determining the significance of arterial stenosis and planning for revascularization surgery. Single-photon emission computed tomography (SPECT) and MR perfusion techniques report relative cerebral blood flow. Since CT imaging is used as the initial imaging modality for acute stroke, some centers combine both CT angiography and CT perfusion imaging together with the noncontrast CT scan. CT perfusion imaging increases the sensitivity for detecting ischemia, and can measure the ischemic penumbra (Fig. 27-15). Alternatively, MR perfusion can be combined with MR diffusion imaging to identify the ischemic penumbra as the mismatch between these two imaging sequences (Fig. 27-16). The ability to image the ischemic penumbra allows more judicious selection of patients who may or may not benefit from acute interventions such as thrombolysis, thrombectomy, or investigational neuroprotective strategies.


Hemorrhages are classified by their location and the underlying vascular pathology. Bleeding into subdural and epidural spaces is principally produced by trauma. SAHs are produced by trauma and rupture of intracranial aneurysms (Chap. 28). Intraparenchymal and intraventricular hemorrhage will be considered here.


Intracranial hemorrhage is often discovered on noncontrast CT imaging of the brain during the acute evaluation of stroke. Since CT is more sensitive than routine MRI for acute blood, CT imaging is the preferred method for acute stroke evaluation (Fig. 27-1). The location of the hemorrhage narrows the differential diagnosis to a few entities. Table 27-6 lists the causes and anatomic spaces involved in hemorrhages.

TABLE 27-6





Close attention should be paid to airway management since a reduction in the level of consciousness is common and often progressive. The initial blood pressure should be maintained until the results of the CT scan are reviewed. Expansion of hemorrhage volume is associated with elevated blood pressure, but it remains unclear if lowering of blood pressure reduces hematoma growth. A recent feasibility trial of 60 patients showed that blood pressure could be safely lowered in acute spontaneous intraparenchymal (intracerebral) hemorrhage (ICH) using nicardipine and forms the basis for a planned pivotal trial powered for detecting improved clinical outcome. Another trial (Intensive Blood Pressure Reduction in Acute Cerebral Hemorrhage Trial [INTERACT]) randomized hypertensive, spontaneous ICH patients to maintain systolic blood pressure Image versus Imageusing IV antihypertensives. There was a statistical decrease in hematoma growth and a reduction in perihematoma edema in the patients assigned to the lower blood pressure goal. Whether these reductions in hematoma growth will translate to clinical benefit is unclear. Until more results are available it is recommended to keep mean arterial pressure (MAP) <130 mmHg, unless an increase in ICP is suspected. In patients who have ICP monitors in place, current recommendations are to keep the cerebral perfusion pressure (MAP-ICP) above 60 mmHg (i.e., one should lower MAP to this target if blood pressure is elevated). Blood pressure should be lowered with nonvasodilating IV drugs such as nicardipine, labetalol, or esmolol. Patients with cerebellar hemorrhages or with depressed mental status and radiographic evidence of hydrocephalus should undergo urgent neurosurgical evaluation. Based on the clinical examination and CT findings, further imaging studies may be necessary, including MRI or conventional x-ray angiography. Stuporous or comatose patients generally are treated presumptively for elevated ICP, with tracheal intubation and hyperventilation, mannitol administration, and elevation of the head of the bed while surgical consultation is obtained (Chap. 28).


ICH is the most common type of intracranial hemorrhage. It accounts for ~10% of all strokes and is associated with a 50% case fatality rate. Incidence rates are particularly high in Asians and blacks. Hypertension, trauma, and cerebral amyloid angiopathy cause the majority of these hemorrhages. Advanced age and heavy alcohol consumption increase the risk, and cocaine and methamphetamine use is one of the most important causes in the young.

Hypertensive intraparenchymal hemorrhage

Image Pathophysiology

Hypertensive intraparenchymal hemorrhage (hypertensive hemorrhage or hypertensive intracerebral hemorrhage) usually results from spontaneous rupture of a small penetrating artery deep in the brain. The most common sites are the basal ganglia (especially the putamen), thalamus, cerebellum, and pons. When hemorrhages occur in other brain areas or in nonhypertensive patients, greater consideration should be given to hemorrhagic disorders, neoplasms, vascular malformations, and other causes. The small arteries in these areas seem most prone to hypertension-induced vascular injury. The hemorrhage may be small or a large clot may form and compress adjacent tissue, causing herniation and death. Blood may dissect into the ventricular space, which substantially increases morbidity and may cause hydrocephalus.

Most hypertensive intraparenchymal hemorrhages develop over 30–90 min, whereas those associated with anticoagulant therapy may evolve for as long as 24–48 h. Within 48 h macrophages begin to phagocytize the hemorrhage at its outer surface. After 1–6 months, the hemorrhage is generally resolved to a slitlike orange cavity lined with glial scar and hemosiderin-laden macrophages.

Image Clinical manifestations

Although not particularly associated with exertion, ICHs almost always occur while the patient is awake and sometimes when stressed. The hemorrhage generally presents as the abrupt onset of focal neurologic deficit. Seizures are uncommon. The focal deficit typically worsens steadily over 30–90 min and is associated with a diminishing level of consciousness and signs of increased ICP such as headache and vomiting.

The putamen is the most common site for hypertensive hemorrhage, and the adjacent internal capsule is usually damaged (Fig. 27-17). Contralateral hemiparesis is therefore the sentinel sign. When mild, the face sags on one side over 5–30 min, speech becomes slurred, the arm and leg gradually weaken, and the eyes deviate away from the side of the hemiparesis. The paralysis may worsen until the affected limbs become flaccid or extend rigidly. When hemorrhages are large, drowsiness gives way to stupor as signs of upper brainstem compression appear. Coma ensues, accompanied by deep, irregular, or intermittent respiration, a dilated and fixed ipsilateral pupil, and decerebrate rigidity. In milder cases, edema in adjacent brain tissue may cause progressive deterioration over 12–72 h.


FIGURE 27-17

Hypertensive hemorrhage. Transaxial noncontrast CT scan through the region of the basal ganglia reveals a hematoma involving the left putamen in a patient with rapidly progressive onset of right hemiparesis.

Thalamic hemorrhages also produce a contralateral hemiplegia or hemiparesis from pressure on, or dissection into, the adjacent internal capsule. A prominent sensory deficit involving all modalities is usually present. Aphasia, often with preserved verbal repetition, may occur after hemorrhage into the dominant thalamus, and constructional apraxia or mutism occurs in some cases of nondominant hemorrhage. There may also be a homonymous visual field defect. Thalamic hemorrhages cause several typical ocular disturbances by virtue of extension inferiorly into the upper midbrain. These include deviation of the eyes downward and inward so that they appear to be looking at the nose, unequal pupils with absence of light reaction, skew deviation with the eye opposite the hemorrhage displaced downward and medially, ipsilateral Horner’s syndrome, absence of convergence, paralysis of vertical gaze, and retraction nystagmus. Patients may later develop a chronic, contralateral pain syndrome (Déjérine-Roussy syndrome).

In pontine hemorrhages, deep coma with quadriplegia usually occurs over a few minutes. There is often prominent decerebrate rigidity and “pinpoint” (1 mm) pupils that react to light. There is impairment of reflex horizontal eye movements evoked by head turning (doll’s-head or oculocephalic maneuver) or by irrigation of the ears with ice water (Chap. 17). Hyperpnea, severe hypertension, and hyperhidrosis are common. Death often occurs within a few hours, but small hemorrhages are compatible with survival.

Cerebellar hemorrhages usually develop over several hours and are characterized by occipital headache, repeated vomiting, and ataxia of gait. In mild cases there may be no other neurologic signs other than gait ataxia. Dizziness or vertigo may be prominent. There is often paresis of conjugate lateral gaze toward the side of the hemorrhage, forced deviation of the eyes to the opposite side, or an ipsilateral sixth nerve palsy. Less frequent ocular signs include blepharospasm, involuntary closure of one eye, ocular bobbing, and skew deviation. Dysarthria and dysphagia may occur. As the hours pass, the patient often becomes stuporous and then comatose from brainstem compression or obstructive hydrocephalus; immediate surgical evacuation before brainstem compression occurs may be lifesaving. Hydrocephalus from fourth ventricle compression can be relieved by external ventricular drainage, but definitive hematoma evacuation is essential for survival. If the deep cerebellar nuclei are spared, full recovery is common.

Lobar hemorrhage

Symptoms and signs appear over several minutes. Most lobar hemorrhages are small and cause a restricted clinical syndrome that simulates an embolus to an artery supplying one lobe. For example, the major neurologic deficit with an occipital hemorrhage is hemianopia; with a left temporal hemorrhage, aphasia and delirium; with a parietal hemorrhage, hemisensory loss; and with frontal hemorrhage, arm weakness. Large hemorrhages may be associated with stupor or coma if they compress the thalamus or midbrain. Most patients with lobar hemorrhages have focal headaches, and more than one-half vomit or are drowsy. Stiff neck and seizures are uncommon.

Other causes of intracerebral hemorrhage

Cerebral amyloid angiopathy is a disease of the elderly in which arteriolar degeneration occurs and amyloid is deposited in the walls of the cerebral arteries. Amyloid angiopathy causes both single and recurrent lobar hemorrhages and is probably the most common cause of lobar hemorrhage in the elderly. It accounts for some intracranial hemorrhages associated with IV thrombolysis given for MI. This disorder can be suspected in patients who present with multiple hemorrhages (and infarcts) over several months or years, or in patients with “micro-bleeds” seen on brain MRI sequences sensitive for hemosiderin, but it is definitively diagnosed by pathologic demonstration of Congo red staining of amyloid in cerebral vessels. The ε2 and ε4 allelic variations of the apolipoprotein E gene are associated with increased risk of recurrent lobar hemorrhage and may therefore be markers of amyloid angiopathy. Currently, there is no specific therapy, although antiplatelet and anticoagulating agents are typically avoided.

Cocaine and methamphetamine are frequent causes of stroke in young (age <45 years) patients. ICH, ischemic stroke, and SAH are all associated with stimulant use. Angiographic findings vary from completely normal arteries to large-vessel occlusion or stenosis, vasospasm, or changes consistent with vasculopathy. The mechanism of sympathomimetic-related stroke is not known, but cocaine enhances sympathetic activity causing acute, sometimes severe, hypertension, and this may lead to hemorrhage. Slightly more than one-half of stimulant-related intracranial hemorrhages are intracerebral, and the rest are subarachnoid. In cases of SAH, a saccular aneurysm is usually identified. Presumably, acute hypertension causes aneurysmal rupture.

Head injury often causes intracranial bleeding. The common sites are intracerebral (especially temporal and inferior frontal lobes) and into the subarachnoid, subdural, and epidural spaces. Trauma must be considered in any patient with an unexplained acute neurologic deficit (hemiparesis, stupor, or confusion), particularly if the deficit occurred in the context of a fall (Chap. 36).

Intracranial hemorrhages associated with anticoagulant therapy can occur at any location; they are often lobar or subdural. Anticoagulant-related ICHs may evolve slowly, over 24–48 h. Coagulopathy and thrombocytopenia should be reversed rapidly, as discussed later. ICH associated with hematologic disorders (leukemia, aplastic anemia, thrombocytopenic purpura) can occur at any site and may present as multiple ICHs. Skin and mucous membrane bleeding is usually evident and offers a diagnostic clue.

Hemorrhage into a brain tumor may be the first manifestation of neoplasm. Choriocarcinoma, malignant melanoma, renal cell carcinoma, and bronchogenic carcinoma are among the most common metastatic tumors associated with ICH. Glioblastoma multiforme in adults and medulloblastoma in children may also have areas of ICH.

Hypertensive encephalopathy is a complication of malignant hypertension. In this acute syndrome, severe hypertension is associated with headache, nausea, vomiting, convulsions, confusion, stupor, and coma. Focal or lateralizing neurologic signs, either transitory or permanent, may occur but are infrequent and therefore suggest some other vascular disease (hemorrhage, embolism, or atherosclerotic thrombosis). There are retinal hemorrhages, exudates, papilledema (hypertensive retinopathy), and evidence of renal and cardiac disease. In most cases ICP and CSF protein levels are elevated. MRI brain imaging shows a pattern of typically posterior (occipital > frontal) brain edema that is reversible and termed reversible posterior leukoencephalopathy. The hypertension may be essential or due to chronic renal disease, acute glomerulonephritis, acute toxemia of pregnancy, pheochromocytoma, or other causes. Lowering the blood pressure reverses the process, but stroke can occur, especially if blood pressure is lowered too rapidly. Neuropathologic examination reveals multifocal to diffuse cerebral edema and hemorrhages of various sizes from petechial to massive. Microscopically, there are necrosis of arterioles, minute cerebral infarcts, and hemorrhages. The term hypertensive encephalopathy should be reserved for this syndrome and not for chronic recurrent headaches, dizziness, recurrent TIAs, or small strokes that often occur in association with high blood pressure.

Primary intraventricular hemorrhage is rare. It usually begins within the substance of the brain and dissects into the ventricular system without leaving signs of intraparenchymal hemorrhage. Alternatively, bleeding can arise from periependymal veins. Vasculitis, usually polyarteritis nodosa or lupus erythematosus, can produce hemorrhage in any region of the central nervous system; most hemorrhages are associated with hypertension, but the arteritis itself may cause bleeding by disrupting the vessel wall. Nearly one-half of patients with primary intraventricular hemorrhage have identifiable bleeding sources seen using conventional angiography. Sepsis can cause small petechial hemorrhages throughout the cerebral white matter. Moyamoya disease, mainly an occlusive arterial disease that causes ischemic symptoms, may on occasion produce intraparenchymal hemorrhage, particularly in the young. Hemorrhages into the spinal cord are usually the result of an AVM, cavernous malformation, or metastatic tumor. Epidural spinal hemorrhage produces a rapidly evolving syndrome of spinal cord or nerve root compression (Chap. 35). Spinal hemorrhages usually present with sudden back pain and some manifestation of myelopathy.

Laboratory and imaging evaluation

Patients should have routine blood chemistries and hematologic studies. Specific attention to the platelet count and PT/PTT are important to identify coagulopathy. CT imaging reliably detects acute focal hemorrhages in the supratentorial space. Small pontine hemorrhages may not be identified because of motion and bone-induced artifact that obscure structures in the posterior fossa. After the first 2 weeks, x-ray attenuation values of clotted blood diminish until they become isodense with surrounding brain. Mass effect and edema may remain. In some cases, a surrounding rim of contrast enhancement appears after 2–4 weeks and may persist for months. MRI, although more sensitive for delineating posterior fossa lesions, is generally not necessary in most instances. Images of flowing blood on MRI scan may identify AVMs as the cause of the hemorrhage. MRI, CT angiography, and conventional x-ray angiography are used when the cause of intracranial hemorrhage is uncertain, particularly if the patient is young or not hypertensive and the hematoma is not in one of the four usual sites for hypertensive hemorrhage. Postcontrast CT imaging may reveal acute hematoma enhancement signifying bleeding at the time of imaging; this “dot-sign” portends increased mortality. Some centers routinely perform CT and CT angiography with postcontrast CT imaging in one sitting to rapidly identify any macrovascular etiology of the hemorrhage and provide prognostic information at the same time. Since patients typically have focal neurologic signs and obtundation, and often show signs of increased ICP, a lumbar puncture should be avoided as it may induce cerebral herniation.

TREATMENT Intracerebral Hemorrhage

ACUTE MANAGEMENT Nearly 50% of patients with a hypertensive ICH die, but others have a good to complete recovery if they survive the initial hemorrhage. The ICH scoring system (Table 27-7) is a validated metric that is useful for prediction of mortality and clinical outcomes. Any identified coagulopathy should be reversed as soon as possible. For patients taking VKAs, rapid reversal of coagulopathy can be achieved by infusing prothrombin complex concentrates which can be administered quickly, followed by fresh-frozen plasma and vitamin K. When ICH is associated with thrombocytopenia (platelet count <50,000/μL), transfusion of fresh platelets is indicated. The role of urgent platelet inhibition assays in the decision to transfuse platelets remains unclear.

TABLE 27-7




At present, little can be done about the hemorrhage itself. Hematomas may expand for several hours following the initial hemorrhage, so treating severe hypertension seems reasonable to prevent hematoma progression. A phase 3 trial of treatment with recombinant factor VIIa reduced hematoma expansion; however, clinical outcomes were not improved, so use of this drug cannot be advocated at present.

Evacuation of supratentorial hematomas does not appear to improve outcome. The International Surgical Trial in Intracerebral Haemorrhage (STICH) randomized 1033 patients with supratentorial ICH to either early surgical evacuation or initial medical management. No benefit was found in the early surgery arm, although analysis was complicated by the fact that 26% of patients in the initial medical management group ultimately had surgery for neurologic deterioration. Overall, these data do not support routine surgical evacuation of supratentorial hemorrhages; however, many centers operate on patients with progressive neurologic deterioration. Surgical techniques continue to evolve, and minimally invasive endoscopic hematoma evacuation may prove beneficial in future trials.

For cerebellar hemorrhages, a neurosurgeon should be consulted immediately to assist with the evaluation; most cerebellar hematomas >3 cm in diameter will require surgical evacuation. If the patient is alert without focal brainstem signs and if the hematoma is <1 cm in diameter, surgical removal is usually unnecessary. Patients with hematomas between 1 and 3 cm require careful observation for signs of impaired consciousness and precipitous respiratory failure.

Tissue surrounding hematomas is displaced and compressed but not necessarily infarcted. Hence, in survivors, major improvement commonly occurs as the hematoma is reabsorbed and the adjacent tissue regains its function. Careful management of the patient during the acute phase of the hemorrhage can lead to considerable recovery.

Surprisingly, ICP is often normal even with large intraparenchymal hemorrhages. However, if the hematoma causes marked midline shift of structures with consequent obtundation, coma, or hydrocephalus, osmotic agents coupled with induced hyperventilation can be instituted to lower ICP (Chap. 28). These maneuvers will provide enough time to place a ventriculostomy or ICP monitor. Once ICP is recorded, further hyperventilation and osmotic therapy can be tailored to the individual patient to keep cerebral perfusion pressure (MAP-ICP) above 60 mmHg. For example, if ICP is found to be high, CSF can be drained from the ventricular space and osmotic therapy continued; persistent or progressive elevation in ICP may prompt surgical evacuation of the clot or withdrawal of support. Alternately, if ICP is normal or only mildly elevated, induced hyperventilation can be reversed and osmotic therapy tapered. Since hyperventilation may actually produce ischemia by cerebral vasoconstriction, induced hyperventilation should be limited to acute resuscitation of the patient with presumptive high ICP and eliminated once other treatments (osmotic therapy or surgical treatments) have been instituted. Glucocorticoids are not helpful for the edema from intra-cerebral hematoma.

PREVENTION Hypertension is the leading cause of primary ICH. Prevention is aimed at reducing hypertension, eliminating excessive alcohol use, and discontinuing use of illicit drugs such as cocaine and amphetamines. Patients with amyloid angiopathy should avoid antithrombotic agents.


Vascular anomalies can be divided into congenital vascular malformations and acquired vascular lesions.


True arteriovenous malformations (AVMs), venous anomalies, and capillary telangiectasias are lesions that usually remain clinically silent through life. AVMs are probably congenital but cases of acquired lesions have been reported.

True AVMs are congenital shunts between the arterial and venous systems that may present as headache, seizures, and intracranial hemorrhage. AVMs consist of a tangle of abnormal vessels across the cortical surface or deep within the brain substance. AVMs vary in size from a small blemish a few millimeters in diameter to a large mass of tortuous channels composing an arteriovenous shunt of sufficient magnitude to raise cardiac output and precipitate heart failure. Blood vessels forming the tangle interposed between arteries and veins are usually abnormally thin and histologically resemble both arteries and veins. AVMs occur in all parts of the cerebral hemispheres, brainstem, and spinal cord, but the largest ones are most frequently in the posterior half of the hemispheres, commonly forming a wedge-shaped lesion extending from the cortex to the ventricle.

Bleeding, headache, or seizures are most common between the ages of 10 and 30, occasionally as late as the fifties. AVMs are more frequent in men, and rare familial cases have been described. Familial AVM may be a part of the autosomal dominant syndrome of hereditary hemorrhagic telangiectasia (Osler-Rendu-Weber) syndrome due to mutations in endoglin (chromosome 9) or activin receptor-like kinase 1 (chromo-some 12).

Headache (without bleeding) may be hemicranial and throbbing, like migraine, or diffuse. Focal seizures, with or without generalization, occur in ~30% of cases. One-half of AVMs become evident as ICHs. In most, the hemorrhage is mainly intraparenchymal with extension into the subarachnoid space in some cases. Blood is usually not deposited in the basal cisterns, and symptomatic cerebral vasospasm is rare. The risk of rerupture is ~2–4% per year and is particularly high in the first few weeks. Hemorrhages may be massive, leading to death, or may be as small as 1 cm in diameter, leading to minor focal symptoms or no deficit. The AVM may be large enough to steal blood away from adjacent normal brain tissue or to increase venous pressure significantly to produce venous ischemia locally and in remote areas of the brain. This is seen most often with large AVMs in the territory of the MCA.

Large AVMs of the anterior circulation may be associated with a systolic and diastolic bruit (sometimes self-audible) over the eye, forehead, or neck and a bounding carotid pulse. Headache at the onset of AVM rupture is not generally as explosive as with aneurysmal rupture. MRI is better than CT for diagnosis, although non-contrast CT scanning sometimes detects calcification of the AVM and contrast may demonstrate the abnormal blood vessels. Once identified, conventional x-ray angiography is the gold standard for evaluating the precise anatomy of the AVM.

Surgical treatment of symptomatic AVMs, often with preoperative embolization to reduce operative bleeding, is usually indicated for accessible lesions. Stereotaxic radiation, an alternative to surgery, can produce a slow sclerosis of the AVM over 2–3 years.

Patients with asymptomatic AVMs have about an ~2–4% per year risk for hemorrhage. Several angio-graphic features can be used to help predict future bleeding risk. Paradoxically, smaller lesions seem to have a higher hemorrhage rate. The impact of recurrent hemorrhage on disability is relatively modest, so the indication for surgery in asymptomatic AVMs is debated. A large-scale randomized trial is currently addressing this question.

Venous anomalies are the result of development of anomalous cerebral, cerebellar, or brainstem venous drainage. These structures, unlike AVMs, are functional venous channels. They are of little clinical significance and should be ignored if found incidentally on brain imaging studies. Surgical resection of these anomalies may result in venous infarction and hemorrhage. Venous anomalies may be associated with cavernous malformations (see later), which do carry some bleeding risk. If resection of a cavernous malformation is attempted, the venous anomaly should not be disturbed.

Capillary telangiectasias are true capillary malformations that often form extensive vascular networks through an otherwise normal brain structure. The pons and deep cerebral white matter are typical locations, and these capillary malformations can be seen in patients with hereditary hemorrhagic telangiectasia (Osler-Rendu-Weber) syndrome. If bleeding does occur, it rarely produces mass effect or significant symptoms. No treatment options exist.


Cavernous angiomas are tufts of capillary sinusoids that form within the deep hemispheric white matter and brainstem with no normal intervening neural structures. The pathogenesis is unclear. Familial cavernous angiomas have been mapped to several different chromosomal loci: KRIT1 (7q21-q22), CCM2 (7p13), and PDCD10 (3q26.1). Both KRIT1 and CCM2 have roles in blood vessel formation while PDCD10 is an apoptotic gene. Cavernous angiomas are typically <1 cm in diameter and are often associated with a venous anomaly. Bleeding is usually of small volume, causing slight mass effect only. The bleeding risk for single cavernous malformations is 0.7–1.5% per year and may be higher for patients with prior clinical hemorrhage or multiple malformations. Seizures may occur if the malformation is located near the cerebral cortex. Surgical resection eliminates bleeding risk and may reduce seizure risk, but it is reserved for those malformations that form near the brain surface. Radiation treatment has not been shown to be of benefit.

Dural arteriovenous fistulas are acquired connections usually from a dural artery to a dural sinus. Patients may complain of a pulse-synchronous cephalic bruit (“pulsatile tinnitus”) and headache. Depending on the magnitude of the shunt, venous pressures may rise high enough to cause cortical ischemia or venous hypertension and hemorrhage, particularly subarachnoid hemorrhage. Surgical and endovascular techniques are usually curative. These fistulas may form because of trauma, but most are idiopathic. There is an association between fistulas and dural sinus thrombosis. Fistulas have been observed to appear months to years following venous sinus thrombosis, suggesting that angiogenesis factors elaborated from the thrombotic process may cause these anomalous connections to form. Alternatively, dural arteriovenous fistulas can produce venous sinus occlusion over time, perhaps from the high pressure and high flow through a venous structure.