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Are multiple acute small subcortical infarctions caused by embolic mechanisms?
  1. D Chowdhury,
  2. J M Wardlaw,
  3. M S Dennis
  1. Division of Clinical Neurosciences, Western General Hospital, Crewe Road, Edinburgh, UK
  1. Correspondence to:
 Professor J M Wardlaw
 Department of Clinical Neurosciences, Western General Hospital, Crewe Road, Edinburgh EH4 2XU, UK;


Objective: To seek evidence of potential embolic sources or other stroke mechanisms in patients who, on chance observation, had several apparently recent small subcortical infarcts on diffusion weighted magnetic resonance imaging (DWI).

Methods: Patients presenting with stroke and multiple hyperintense subcortical infarcts visible on DWI were identified prospectively. Detailed clinical and radiological assessments were done independently and blinded to each other.

Results: Of 10 patients with multiple hyperintense subcortical infarcts on DWI, a definite embolic source was identified in only one. Most patients were hypertensive and smoked. The DWI appearance suggested that the subcortical lesions had occurred within several weeks rather than at exactly the same time. Most patients also had significant white matter hyperintensities and four had microhaemorrhages.

Conclusions: Embolic sources were not identified in most patients but they did have systemic vascular risk factors and brain imaging features of “small vessel disease.” A more generalised intrinsic process affecting many small cerebral vessels contemporaneously could explain multiple acute small subcortical infarcts. White matter hyperintensities, microhaemorrhages, and multiple small subcortical infarcts may share a common pathophysiological mechanism such as a diffuse cerebral microvascular abnormality which requires further exploration.

  • DWI, diffusion weighted imaging
  • FLAIR, fluid attenuation inversion recovery
  • LACS, lacunar syndrome
  • OCSP, Oxford Community Stroke Project
  • PACS, partial anterior circulation stroke syndrome
  • POCS, posterior circulation syndrome
  • stroke
  • cerebral infarction
  • lipohyalinosis
  • emboli

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  • Competing interests: none declared

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