What are the causes of cardiogenic emboli in ischemic stroke?

Updated: May 27, 2020
  • Author: Edward C Jauch, MD, MS, FAHA, FACEP; Chief Editor: Helmi L Lutsep, MD  more...
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Cardiogenic emboli may account for up to 20% of acute strokes. Emboli may arise from the heart, the extracranial arteries, including the aortic arch or, rarely, the right-sided circulation (paradoxical emboli) with subsequent passage through a patent foramen ovale. [38] Sources of cardiogenic emboli include the following:

Acute myocardial infarction is associated with a 2-3% incidence of embolic strokes, of which 85% occur in the first month after the infarction. [39] Embolic strokes tend to have a sudden onset, and neuroimaging may demonstrate previous infarcts in several vascular territories or may show calcific emboli.

Cardioembolic strokes may be isolated, multiple and in a single hemisphere, or scattered and bilateral; the latter 2 types indicate multiple vascular distributions and are more specific for cardioembolism. Multiple and bilateral infarcts can be the result of embolic showers or recurrent emboli. Other possibilities for single and bilateral hemispheric infarctions include emboli originating from the aortic arch and diffuse thrombotic or inflammatory processes that can lead to multiple small-vessel occlusions. (See the image below.) [40, 41]

Cardioembolic stroke: Axial diffusion-weighted ima Cardioembolic stroke: Axial diffusion-weighted images demonstrate scattered foci of high signal in the subcortical and deep white matter bilaterally in a patient with a known cardiac source for embolization. An area of low signal in the left gangliocapsular region may be secondary to prior hemorrhage or subacute to chronic lacunar infarct. Recurrent strokes are most commonly secondary to cardioembolic phenomenon.

For more information, see Cardioembolic Stroke.

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