Background and aim of the study: A treatment dilemma arises when endocarditis is complicated by cerebral embolism. Secondary cerebral hemorrhagic complications may arise following suppression of coagulation during extracorporeal circulation. Extensive valvular vegetation is regarded as an indicator for urgent surgery. The study aim was to determine the relative risk of thromboembolic complications, and to analyze the prognostic influence of different treatment strategies following onset of these complications, in particular, secondary cerebral hemorrhagic events after urgent surgery.
Methods: Between 1978 and 1993, endocarditis was diagnosed in 288 consecutive patients. Patients treated before 1982 (6.9%) were analyzed retrospectively. The remaining patients (93.1%) were followed prospectively (mean 4.3+/-1.7 years).
Results: In 50 patients (17.4%), the clinical course was complicated by one embolism, and in 58 patients (20.2%) by recurrent embolisms. In total, 71% of all embolisms were cerebral events. The operated patients were categorized with regard to the time between recurrent thromboembolic events and cardiac surgery (<72 h, 3-8 days, and >8 days). The prognosis for patients operated within 72 h was significantly more favorable (p <0.0001) than for those treated medically. Patients undergoing cardiac surgery more than eight days after stroke, and those treated conservatively, had poor prognoses.
Conclusion: When endocarditis is complicated by stroke, it is recommended that cardiac surgery be performed within 72 h of the cerebral embolism, when the risk of secondary cerebral hemorrhage appears to be low. Cranial computed tomography is obligatory immediately before surgery in order to identify patients with early reperfusion hemorrhages due to spontaneous fragmentation of the thrombus. In these patients, cardiac surgery must be postponed because of the high risk of severe cerebral bleeding during extensive perioperative anticoagulation, and is only justified in the case of an otherwise unfavorable prognosis.