Medical Definition of Embolism, paradoxical

  • Medical Author:
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

Embolism, paradoxical: 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 12/4/2018

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