Early diagnosis of cerebral fat embolism syndrome by diffusion-weighted MRI (starfield pattern)

P. M. Parizel, H. E. Demey, G. Veeckmans, F. Verstreken, P. Cras, P. G. Jorens, A. M. De Schepper

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

156 Citations (Scopus)


Background - Cerebral fat embolism syndrome is a rare, but potentially lethal, complication of long bone fractures. Neurological symptoms are variable, and the clinical diagnosis is difficult. The purpose of this case study is to demonstrate the value of diffusion-weighted MRI of the brain for early diagnosis of fat embolism syndrome. Case Description - A non-head-injured 18-year-old woman suffered acute mental status changes 21 hours after an uncomplicated fracture of the left tibia. MRI of the brain was performed 48 hours after injury. T2-weighted images showed multiple nonconfluent areas of high signal intensity, which, on the diffusion-weighted scans, were revealed as bright spots on a dark background ("starfield" pattern). We suggest that this indicates areas of restricted diffusion that are due to cytotoxic edema, resulting from multiple microemboli. Conclusions - High-intensity lesions in the brain on diffusion-weighted images may serve as an early-appearing and more sensitive indicator of the diagnosis of fat embolism in the clinical context of long bone injury without head trauma.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2942-2944
Number of pages3
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - 24 Dec 2001
Externally publishedYes


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