Background: Little is known about the natural course of internal carotid artery (ICA) occlusion and its possible recanalization. The present study was designed to evaluate recanalization rates of extracranial ICA occlusions in acute stroke patients by means of color-coded duplex sonography (CCDS).
Methods: 305 patients with acute ischemia in the territory of the middle cerebral artery were included in this study. All patients had a neurological examination on admission and on discharge and were rated by means of the European Stroke Scale (ESS). Extracranial color-coded duplexsonography, transcranial Doppler sonography and cranial computed tomography were immediately performed after admission and within 7 days.
Results: 254 patients showed no sign of hemodynamic relevant stenosis greater than 70% of the ICA. 21 patients had symptomatic high grade ICA stenosis. 20 patients had an acute occlusion and 10 patients an old ICA occlusion as judged by duplex sonographic criteria. Six patients (5 male, 1 female; age range 57 to 77 years) with an acute atherothrombotic or cardioembolic occlusion showed a recanalization of the ICA in the follow-up ultrasonography. Two patients with cardiogenic embolic occlusion of the ICA had the most favorable outcome and these patients showed no residual stenosis. 4 patients who had ultrasound findings consistent with atherosclerosis on follow-up examination (2 high-grade stenosis, 2 with carotid plaques) did not show a notable improvement of their ESS-score. Patients with carotid plaques developed complete MCA infarctions; the other 4 patients had partial anterior circulation infarction on follow-up CT.
Conclusions: The present study showed that recanalization of the occluded ICA in acute stroke patients is more frequent than generally presumed. CCDS should be routinely performed in the follow-up of stroke patients as spontaneous recanalization may influence clinical outcome.