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Clinical Investigations: CARDIOLOGY |

Retrograde Flow in the Thoracic Aorta in Patients With Systemic Emboli*: A Transesophageal Echocardiographic Evaluation of Mobile Plaque Motion

Alexander Tenenbaum, MD, PhD; Michael Motro, MD; Micha S. Feinberg, MD; Ehud Schwammenthal, MD; Chaim I. Stroh, MD; Zvi Vered, MD; Enrique Z. Fisman, MD
Author and Funding Information

*From the Cardiac Rehabilitation Institute and the Heart Institute, Chaim Sheba Medical Center, Tel-Hashomer, Sackler Faculty of Medicine, Tel-Aviv University, Tel-Aviv, Israel.

Correspondence to: Alexander Tenenbaum, MD, PhD, Cardiac Rehabilitation Institute, Chaim Sheba Medical Center, 52621 Tel-Hashomer, Israel; e-mail: zfisman@post.tau.ac.il



Chest. 2000;118(6):1703-1708. doi:10.1378/chest.118.6.1703
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Study objectives: Blood flow in the aorta is complex and incompletely characterized. Mobile aortic plaques (MAPs), moving freely with the pulsatile aortic flow, in fact represent natural tracers that reflect the flow pattern itself. Our aim was to use MAP motion on transesophageal echocardiography (TEE) in order to characterize flow patterns in the atheromatous thoracic aorta of patients with systemic emboli.

Design and patients: The study group was recruited from 250 patients referred for TEE to evaluate recent embolism. Among them, 22 patients (14 men and 8 women; mean ± SD age, 66.3 ± 7.2 years; 16 patients with cerebrovascular and 6 patients with peripheral emboli) with MAPs of≥ 3 mm in length formed the study group. The longest amplitudes of three spatial components of mobile lesion motions were measured: x (antegrade/retrograde [A/R]), y (up/down [U/D], and z (right/left[ R/L]).

Results: A total of 33 mobile lesions were detected: 3 in the ascending aorta (1 patient), 13 in the arch (10 patients), and 17 in the descending aorta (11 patients). The length of mobile plaque components ranged from 3 to 13 mm; amplitudes of A/R, U/d, R/L, and retrograde flow motions ranged from 3 to 26 mm, from 1 to 16 mm, from 1 to 17 mm, and from 1 to 13 mm, respectively. Systolic rotational motion was clockwise in six patients (27%), counterclockwise in five patients (23%), incomplete (semicircle) in six patients (27%), and alternate clockwise/counterclockwise in five patients (23%). Diastolic rotational motion was clockwise in 5 patients (23%), counterclockwise in 6 patients (27%), and incomplete (semicircle) in 11 patients (50%). There were 18 multiple MAPs in seven patients: in all these cases, simultaneous rotations of MAP in different directions (as a marker for the presence of multiple vortices) were found. In nine patients with cerebral embolism, MAPs on the distal part of aortic arch solely were found; in five of them, all alternative potential sources of stroke were excluded. Therefore, retrograde cerebral embolism from distal aortic plaques in these patients is highly probable.

Conclusions: Retrograde and rotational blood flow in the thoracic aorta probably exists in all patients with systemic emboli and mobile protruding aortic atheromas. Therefore, retrograde cerebral embolism from distal aortic plaques is theoretically possible.

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