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Definition of Paradoxical embolism

Paradoxical embolism: Passage of a clot (thrombus) from a vein to an artery. When clots in veins break off (embolize) , they travel first to the right side of the heart and, normally, then to the lungs where they lodge. The lungs act as a filter to prevent the clots from entering the arterial circulation. However, when there is a hole in the wall between the two upper chambers of the heart (an atrial septal defect), a clot can cross from the right to the left side of the heart, then pass into the arteries as a paradoxical embolism. Once in the arterial circulation, a clot can travel to the brain, block a vessel there, and cause a stroke (cerebrovascular accident). Because of the risk of stroke from paradoxical embolism, it is usually recommended that even small atrial septal defects be repaired. Also called crossed embolism.

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Reviewed on 12/12/2018

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