Free-floating thrombus of the extracranial internal carotid artery

Ann Vasc Surg. 1990 Nov;4(6):558-62. doi: 10.1016/S0890-5096(06)60839-X.


Free-floating clots of the extracranial internal carotid artery are generally considered as surgical emergencies. This retrospective study analyzes six free-floating clots diagnosed by arteriography. Three of these patients had a fixed stroke while the other three had an evolving stroke. Three patients had antecedent ocular or hemispheric transient ischemic attacks. The causes of free-floating clots in the internal carotid artery were atheromatous stenosis in two cases, ulcerated plaque in three cases, and carotid artery dissection in one. All six patients were seen late, approximately 15 hours after their neurologic accident. They were treated with intravenous heparin over a two to five week period. Repeat arteriograms demonstrated complete clot lysis in four instances, while partial lysis was seen in one case. Moderate extension of thrombus occurred in one case only. No further neurologic complications were noted during the treatment by heparin. As indicated by follow-up arteriographic findings, secondary surgery was performed for major carotid lesions and residual clots in five cases. The free-floating thrombus syndrome of the carotid artery should not be considered as a surgical emergency when discovered late in the wake of an acute neurologic accident.

MeSH terms

  • Carotid Artery Thrombosis / complications
  • Carotid Artery Thrombosis / drug therapy*
  • Carotid Artery Thrombosis / surgery
  • Carotid Artery, Internal / diagnostic imaging
  • Cerebrovascular Disorders / drug therapy
  • Cerebrovascular Disorders / etiology
  • Cerebrovascular Disorders / surgery
  • Female
  • Heparin / administration & dosage
  • Heparin / therapeutic use*
  • Humans
  • Infusions, Intravenous
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Radiography
  • Retrospective Studies


  • Heparin