A study was performed to investigate the clinical significance of microembolization detected by transcranial Doppler ultrasonography (TCD) by determining the quantity and character of emboli and correlating these with neurological and psychometric outcome, fundoscopy, automated visual field testing and computed tomographic brain scans in 100 consecutive patients undergoing carotid endarterectomy. Embolization was detected in 92 per cent of successfully monitored operations. Most emboli were characteristic of air and not associated with adverse clinical outcome. However, more than ten particulate emboli during initial carotid dissection correlated with a significant deterioration in postoperative cognitive function. A relationship between persistent particulate embolization in the immediate postoperative period, and both incipient carotid artery thrombosis and the development of major neurological deficits was observed. Immediate intervention, based on TCD evidence of embolization, has the potential to avert neurological deficits resulting from particulate embolization.