Background and purpose: Lacunar infarcts usually results from a vasculopathy of the small vessels of the brain. It is not known whether this small-vessel disease is exclusively related to the brain or part of a more systemic small-vessel disease. In this study, patients with a lacunar stroke were investigated for manifestations of extracerebral small and large-vessel disease in comparison with cortical stroke patients.
Methods: Twenty-nine patients with a lacunar stroke, presumably caused by small-vessel disease, and 30 patients with a cortical stroke, presumably caused by large-vessel disease, entered the study. Extracerebral large-vessel disease was investigated using carotid and renal duplex scanning and Doppler sonography of the large leg vessels. Extracerebral small-vessel disease was studied from photographs of the retina, renal perfusion scintigraphy before and after angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibition, plasma renin measurement, and capillary microscopy of the nailfold.
Results: Vascular risk factor profile was similar in both stroke subgroups. Carotid large-vessel disease (stenosis > or =50%) was significantly less frequent among lacunar stroke patients (lacunar 3% v cortical 50%, (c)OR=0.04; 95% CI, 0.01 to 0.21, P<.01). Large-vessel disease of the renal artery (lacunar 23% v cortical 27%), and the legs (lacunar 38% v cortical 37%) was similar in both stroke groups. There was a high frequency of mild retinal arteriolosclerosis in both groups (lacunar 92% v cortical 80%). Renal blood flow changes were abnormal in 40% of the lacunar and 38% of the cortical stroke patients as a sign of renal small-vessel disease. Plasma renin concentrations did not differ between both groups. Both lacunar and cortical stroke patients had normal nailford capillary morphology, but red blood cell dynamics were reduced in both stroke groups, indicating small-vessel dysfunction.
Conclusion: Lacunar and cortical stroke patients have both manifestations of systemic small-and large-vessel disease. Therefore, systemic small-vessel disease is not exclusively related to lacunar stroke patients who presumably have cerebral small vessel disease. A similar conclusion can be reached in cortical stroke patients.