The role of imaging in the management of cerebral and ocular ischaemia

G J Hankey, C P Warlow

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

28 Citations (Scopus)


The last decade has seen several major technological advances in vascular neuroradiology, the most clinically significant of which have been the facility to image the brain and the extracranial carotid bifurcation noninvasively with accuracy and safety. Another major advance has been unequivocal evidence from formal statistical overviews that antiplatelet therapy, particularly aspirin, reduces the risk of serious vascular events by about 25%. These advances have changed clinical practice such that most patients presenting with symptoms suggestive of cerebral ischaemia should now have cranial CT to exclude intracerebral hemorrhage, not only because the causes and prognosis of cerebral ischaemia differ from those of intracerebral hemorrhage, but because many patients with cerebral ischaemia should be considered for antiplatelet therapy. Besides the use of long term antiplatelet therapy and control of vascular risk factors, other acute treatment options are limited with the possible exception of anticoagulation, thrombolysis, cytoprotective agents and carotid endarterectomy. If, as seems likely, the current clinical trials show that carotid endarterectomy plus medical therapy improve upon the stroke-free survival of patients treated medically, at least in symptomatic patients with severe stenosis, the number of carotid endarterectomies performed will increase considerably because carotid bifurcation disease is the most common cause of cerebral and ocular ischemic events. It will then be even more important to be able to obtain accurate anatomical and physiological information about the extracranial and intracranial circulations with utmost safety. Duplex ultrasound is currently the noninvasive screening method of choice for carotid bifurcation disease because it is available, relatively cheap, and reasonably accurate. It not only images the vessel lumen and degree of stenosis, but also the morphology of the vessel wall and associated plaque, the relevance of which is still uncertain in the pathogenesis of cerebral and ocular ischaemia. A major limitation of duplex sonography is that it cannot reliably distinguish tight stenosis from occlusion and it does not image the proximal or distal carotid circulation. The aim of newer techniques will be to distinguish tight extracranial carotid stenosis from occlusion and to provide anatomical, physiological and pathological information about the intracranial circulation and ischemic lesions (in view of potential for thrombolytic therapy of major intracranial vessel occlusion) with safety and reproducible accuracy.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)381-90
Number of pages10
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 1991
Externally publishedYes


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