An increase of arterial carbon dioxide (CO2) partial pressure induces an increase of cerebral blood flow by dilatation of the resistance vessels. By the Transcranial Doppler sonographic technique (TCD) blood flow velocity as a correlate of flow volume can be measured within the great basal intracranial arteries. We investigated 8 patients with an internal carotid artery occlusion or high-grade stenosis and 5 cerebrovascular diseased patients without extracranial stenosis. 12 healthy volunteers and patients without vascular disease served as the control group. Blood flow velocities in the middle cerebral arteries were evaluated before and after 5 minutes of breathing a 5% CO2 gas mixture. In a prestudy the end tidal pCO2 was monitored during this procedure. As a result of the close parallelity of pCO2 increase in the prestudy group we planned to standardize the CO2 reactivity tests without consideration of the individual pCO2 values. The CO2 inhalation provoked a flow velocity increase of at least 20% in the control subjects (47.1 +/- 17.3%). The vascular diseased without extracranial stenosis responded with 34.8 +/- 17.4% (minimum: 23.5%, n. s.). The CO2 reactivity in cases of occlusion or greater than 50% stenosis was significantly decreased (p less than 0.001) both when considering only the affected sides (12.4 +/- 7.5%, maximum: 20%) and when including the non affected sides (22.6 +/- 15.0%). It is concluded that the CO2 reactivity test is a simple and valid method to evaluate the cerebrovascular reserve capacity in any case of uncertainty about the benefits of surgical treatment of a carotid stenosis. In future this technique might become one fundamental argument beside others in selecting adequate treatment.
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