Cerebral microbleeds: from depiction to interpretation

Cerebral microbleeds (CMBs) are defined as hypointense foci visible on T2*-weighted and susceptible-weighted MRI sequences. CMBs are increasingly recognised with the widespread use of MRI in healthy individuals as well as in the context of cerebrovascular disease or dementia. They can also be encountered in major critical medical conditions such as in patients requiring extracorporeal mechanical oxygenation. The advent of MRI-guided postmortem neuropathological examinations confirmed that, in the context of cerebrovascular disease, the vast majority of CMBs correspond to recent or old microhaemorrhages. Detection of CMBs is highly influenced by MRI parameters, in particular field strength, postprocessing methods used to enhance T2* contrast and three dimensional sequences. Despite recent progress, harmonising imaging parameters across research studies remains necessary to improve cross-study comparisons. CMBs are helpful markers to identify the nature and the severity of the underlying chronic small vessel disease. In daily clinical practice, presence and numbers of CMBs often trigger uncertainty for clinicians especially when antithrombotic treatments and acute reperfusion therapies are discussed. In the present review, we discuss those clinical dilemmas and address the value of CMBs as diagnostic and prognostic markers for future vascular events.

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