The term “lacunar infarction” referred to small infarctions in the basal ganglia, internal capsule, thalamus, and brainstem, due to hypertensive small vessel disease. However, it has become common to refer to all small infarctions as lacunar. It is important to understand that true lacunes occur in a phylogenetically ancient part of the brain, the “vascular centrencephalon”, where short straight arteries with few branches transmit high blood pressure straight through to end-arterioles. The cortex is supplied by long arteries with many branches, so there is a very large blood pressure gradient in the brain. When blood pressure in the brachial artery is 117/75 mmHg, the pressure in the lenticulostriate artery would be 113/73, and the pressure in small parietal arterioles would be only 59/38 mmHg. Recent studies have reported that patients with a pulse pressure >60 mmHg and diastolic pressure <60 mmHg have a doubling of coronary risk and a 5.85-fold increase in stroke risk. This means that new low systolic targets being proposed will probably decrease the incidence of true lacunes, but increase small subcortical infarctions in the hemispheres. The pathogenesis of small vessel disease should be interpreted in the light of these blood pressure gradients.
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