Clinical conundrum: concomitant high-risk pulmonary embolism and acute ischemic stroke

Ka U. Lio, David Jiménez, Lisa Moores, Parth Rali*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


High-risk PE can be complicated by the presence of a patent foramen ovale (PFO), which can lead to paradoxical systemic embolization, including cerebral embolism ultimately leading to acute ischemic stroke (AIS). Acute management is challenging given the competing benefits and risks of systemic thrombolysis. Herein, we aim to provide a review of clinical presentations, diagnostic findings, and treatment and outcome from the available literature, with the hopes of providing insight into treatment options. We followed the guidelines outlined by the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses (PRISMA). A systematic literature search using PubMed/MEDLINE database, Cochrane Library, and Google Scholar for all reported cases/case series of concomitant high-risk PE and paradoxical ischemic stroke was conducted from inception to July 2019. Twenty-nine cases from 27 articles (26 single case reports, 1 case series of 3 patients) were included. There were 10 men and 19 women, ranging in age from 29 to 81 years (mean 56.1 ± 13.5 years). PFO was diagnosed in 89.7% of patients, mostly by transesophageal echocardiography. Treatment modalities included systemic thrombolysis (40%), anticoagulation alone (36%), surgical thrombectomy (16%), and percutaneous thrombectomy (8%). Overall mortality rate was 31%. Patients receiving thrombolysis and surgical thrombectomy had the most favorable outcome. Survival to discharge was 90% (9 out of 10), 100% (5 out of 5), and 50% (4 out of 8) in the systemic thrombolysis, surgical thrombectomy, and anticoagulation alone groups respectively. In the setting of combined high-risk PE and ischemic stroke, PFO can be detected in 90% of published cases. Thrombolysis and surgical thrombectomy seem to be effective management, but further studies are needed for validation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)433-439
Number of pages7
JournalEmergency Radiology
Issue number4
StatePublished - 1 Aug 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • High-risk pulmonary embolism
  • Paradoxical cerebral embolism
  • Paradoxical ischemic stroke
  • Patent foramen ovale


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