Screening for intracranial stenosis with transcranial Doppler: the accuracy of mean flow velocity thresholds

J Neuroimaging. 2002 Jan;12(1):9-14. doi: 10.1111/j.1552-6569.2002.tb00083.x.


Background: Patients with 50% intracranial arterial stenosis may require more intensive therapies for stroke prevention. Transcranial Doppler (TCD) is a convenient noninvasive screen for intracranial stenosis. The accuracy of different mean flow velocity (MFV) thresholds for determining the degree of stenosis remains uncertain.

Methods: The authors prospectively compared the accuracy of TCD criteria and MFV thresholds to magnetic resonance, computed tomography, and digital subtraction angiography in patients with symptoms of recent or remote stroke or transient ischemic attack. Stenosis on angiography was measured as 0%, < 50%, or > or = 50% diameter reduction.

Results: Of 136 consecutive patients, 33 (24%) had distal internal carotid artery (ICA), middle cerebral artery (MCA), posterior cerebral artery, or basilar artery stenosis on angiography (14 patients [10%] were excluded due to incomplete TCD examinations, mainly from a lack of temporal windows). TCD showed 31 true-positive, 9 false-positive, 2 false-negative, and 94 true-negative studies. For all vessels, TCD had a sensitivity of 93.9% (confidence interval [CI] = 89%-98%), a specificity of 91.2% (CI = 87%-96%), a positive predictive value (PPV) of 77.5%, and a negative predictive value (NPV) of 97.9%. The trade-off in sensitivity and specificity for MCA MFV thresholds was as follows: MFV > or = 80 cm/s had a sensitivity of 100%, a specificity of 96.9% (CI = 94%-99%), a PPV of 84%, and an NPV of 100%. MFV > or = 100 cm/s had a sensitivity of 100%, a specificity of 97.9% (CI = 96%-99%), a PPV of 88.8%, and an NPV of 94.9%. MFV > or = 120 cm/s had a sensitivity of 68.7% (CI = 61%-78%), a specificity of 100%, a PPV of 100%, and an NPV of 94.9%. Reasons for false-positive findings include collateralization of flow in the presence of proximal ICA stenosis and prestenotic to stenotic MCA velocity ratios of 1: < or = 2.

Conclusion: TCD is both sensitive and specific in identifying > or = 50% intracranial arterial stenosis. A MFV threshold cutoff of 100 cm/s has an optimal sensitivity and specificity trade-off for > or = 50% MCA stenosis. To help avoid false-positive results, a prestenotic to stenotic MCA velocity ratio of 1: > or = 2 should be used in addition to the MFV threshold.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Algorithms
  • Angiography, Digital Subtraction
  • Blood Flow Velocity
  • Brain Ischemia / diagnosis
  • Brain Ischemia / diagnostic imaging*
  • Cerebrovascular Circulation
  • False Positive Reactions
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Prospective Studies
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed
  • Ultrasonography, Doppler, Transcranial*