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Int J Geriatr Psychiatry. 2005 Jan;20(1):12-6.

Cerebral emboli and paradoxical embolisation in dementia: a pilot study.

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  • 1University of Manchester, School of Psychiatry and Behavioural Sciences, Education and Research Centre, Wythenshawe Hospital, Wythenshawe, Manchester M23 9LT, UK.



The causes of the common dementias remain unknown. Paradoxical embolisation of the cerebral circulation by venous thrombi passing through venous to arterial shunts (v-aCS) in the heart or pulmonary circulation is known to occur in cryptogenic stroke and post-operative confusion following hip replacement.


To explore the role of paradoxical embolisation in dementia by investigating for cerebral emboli, venous to arterial circulation shunt (v-aCS) and carotid artery disease.


Forty-one patients with dementia (24 Alzheimer's AD and 17 vascular VaD) diagnosed using DSM-IV criteria and 16 controls underwent transcranial Doppler (TCD) detection of spontaneous cerebral emboli in both middle cerebral arteries. A v-aCS was detected by intravenous injection of an air/saline ultrasound contrast at rest and after provocation by coughing and Valsalva's manoeuvre. Carotid artery disease was assessed by duplex imaging.


Cerebral emboli were detected in 11 (27.5%) dementia patients compared with one (7%) control (p = 0.15) with emboli being most frequent in VaD (41%) compared to controls [OR (95% CI): 10.5 (1.1, 98.9), p = 0.04]. A v-aCS was detected in 25 (61%) patients and seven (44%) controls (p = 0.24). In dementia patients with cerebral emboli; v-aCS was detected in seven (64%) and moderate to severe carotid stenosis was present in three (30%).


Cerebral emboli and v-aCS may be more frequent in patients with both VaD and AD than in controls, which suggest paradoxical embolisation as a potential mechanism for cerebral damage. This pilot study justifies a definitive case-control study.

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