Cholesterol embolism: experience with 22 histologically proven cases

Surgery. 1989 Jun;105(6):737-46.


The records of 22 patients, aged 61 to 85 years, with histologically proven cholesterol embolism (CE) were reviewed. All had one or more risk factors. Twenty-one patients had preexisting symptomatic or recognized atherosclerotic disease. Twenty patients had one or more identifiable precipitating factors, including warfarin administration (4), angiography (15), angioplasty (2), intra-aortic balloon pump placement (2), vascular surgery (11), aortitis (2), and cardiopulmonary resuscitation (1). These preceded the onset of symptoms by as many as 3 months, but usually by less than 3 weeks. Eight patients had peripheral CE alone. Fourteen patients had visceral CE. All 14 had renal CE that was characterized by abrupt deterioration of renal function after a precipitating event (13), evidence of concurrent CE to the lower extremities or other organs (10), accelerated hypertension (9), gross hematuria (6), or flank and back pain (3). Unusual presentations included one case each of spinal cord infarction, penile gangrene, adrenal insufficiency, and symptomatic splenic infarct. If patients with visceral CE survived after initial hospitalization, they often required dialysis and later hospitalizations because of complications. Premortem diagnoses were made in 18 patients: nine from surgical specimens and nine from biopsies (one kidney, eight muscle and skin). Attempts at definitive vascular surgery were possible in only two patients and successful in one. The challenges encountered in managing these patients' conditions are reviewed.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Aorta, Abdominal
  • Aortic Diseases* / diagnosis
  • Aortic Diseases* / etiology
  • Aortic Diseases* / mortality
  • Aortic Diseases* / surgery
  • Arteriosclerosis / complications*
  • Cholesterol*
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Embolism* / diagnosis
  • Embolism* / etiology
  • Embolism* / mortality
  • Embolism* / surgery
  • Evaluation Studies as Topic
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Kidney Diseases / complications
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Risk Factors


  • Cholesterol