Background: Embolic signals have been detected within both the aortic lumen and the intracranial vasculature during coronary artery bypass grafting. Total numbers of these emboli have been reported. The present study examined the size of individual emboli and the total volume of embolization.
Methods: Using transesophageal echocardiography, we continuously monitored the aortic lumen of 10 patients undergoing isolated coronary artery bypass grafting. We manually analyzed 720,000 individual echo frames over a 4-minute period after the release of aortic clamps to track and to calculate the volume of 657 individual particles. The embolic load for the entire procedure was calculated from mean volume based on analysis of 1,508 particles. We simultaneously monitored the middle cerebral artery using transcranial Doppler ultrasonography and compared numbers of emboli detected by the two techniques.
Results: Particle diameter ranged from 0.3 to 2.9 mm (mean, 0.8 mm), and particle volume from 0.01 to 12.5 mm3 (mean, 0.8 mm3). Twenty-eight percent of particles measured 1 mm or more, 44% measured 0.6 to 1.0 mm, and only 27% measured 0.6 mm or less in diameter. Aortic embolic load for the procedure ranged from 0.6 cm3 to 11.2 cm3 (mean, 3.7 cm3). Estimated cerebral embolic load for the procedure ranged from 60 to 510 mm3 (mean, 276 mm3). The fraction of aortic emboli entering the cerebral circulation was very variable (3.9% to 18.1%). Seventy-six percent of the embolic volume after the release of clamps occurred over a 20-second period. Only 1 patient was encephalopathic perioperatively. This patient had the largest estimated cerebral embolic load (510 mm3) and the second largest aortic embolic load (8.4 cm3).
Conclusions: We determined the size of individual intraaortic embolic particles and the total volume of embolization during coronary artery bypass grafting, and found the proportion entering the cerebral circulation to be very variable. The constitution of these particles and the neurologic impairment resulting from such embolization remains to be determined.