OBJECTIVE. Posterior reversible encephalopathy syndrome (PRES) is classically characterized as symmetric parietooccipital edema but may occur in other distributions with varying imaging appearances. This study determines the incidence of atypical and typical regions of involvement and unusual imaging manifestations.
MATERIALS AND METHODS. Seventy-six patients were eventually included as having confirmed PRES from 111 initially suspected cases, per imaging and clinical follow-up. Two neuroradiologists retrospectively reviewed each MR image. Standard sequences were unenhanced FLAIR and T1- and T2-weighted images in all patients, with diffusion-weighted imaging (n = 75) and contrast-enhanced T1-weighted imaging (n = 69) in most. The regions involved were recorded on the basis of FLAIR findings, and the presence of atypical imaging findings (contrast enhancement, restricted diffusion, hemorrhage) was correlated with the severity (extent) of hyperintensity or mass effect on FLAIR.
RESULTS. The incidence of regions of involvement was parietooccipital, 98.7%; posterior frontal, 78.9%; temporal, 68.4%; thalamus, 30.3%; cerebellum, 34.2%; brainstem, 18.4%; and basal ganglia, 11.8%. The incidence of less common manifestations was enhancement, 37.7%; restricted diffusion, 17.3%; hemorrhage, 17.1%; and a newly described unilateral variant, 2.6%. Poor correlation was found between edema severity and enhancement (r = 0.072), restricted diffusion (r = 0.271), hemorrhage (r = 0.267), blood pressure (systolic, r = 0.13; diastolic, r = 0.02). Potentially new PRES causes included contrast-related anaphylaxis and alcohol withdrawal.
CONCLUSION. This large series of PRES cases shows that atypical distributions and imaging manifestations of PRES have a higher incidence than commonly perceived, and atypical manifestations do not correlate well with the edema severity.
Posterior reversible encephalopathy syndrome (PRES) describes a usually reversible neurologic syndrome with a variety of presenting symptoms ranging from headache, altered mental status, seizures, and vision loss to loss of consciousness. The term describes a potentially reversible imaging appearance and symptomatology that is shared by a diverse array of causes, including hypertension, eclampsia and preeclampsia, immunosuppressive medications such as cyclosporine, various antineoplastic agents, severe hypercalcemia, thrombocytopenic syndromes, Henoch-Schönlein purpura, hemolytic uremic syndrome, amyloid angiopathy, systemic lupus erythematosus, and various causes of renal failure [1–9]. Given the multitude of potential offending conditions, some authors suggest that rather than concentrating on new causes of PRES, the focus should be on atypical and potentially misleading imaging findings and common pathophysiology . The mechanism is not entirely understood but is thought to be related to a hyperperfusion state, with blood–brain barrier breakthrough, extravasation of fluid potentially containing blood or macromolecules, and resulting cortical or subcortical edema [11–13]. Alternatively, others have proposed that vasospasm may precipitate the reversible edema, leading to cytotoxic edema if left untreated [14, 15].
The typical imaging findings of PRES are most apparent as hyperintensity on FLAIR images in the parietooccipital and posterior frontal cortical and subcortical white matter; less commonly, the brainstem, basal ganglia, and cerebellum are involved [7, 8, 16–18]. Atypical imaging appearances include contrast enhancement, hemorrhage, and restricted diffusion on MRI [1–6, 9, 19–27].
Given the varying reports of PRES-related imaging findings, we sought to document the frequency of edema in various regions of the brain and of various atypical imaging findings, and to discern new imaging findings or causes. The hypothesis was that atypical regions of involvement and atypical findings may be more common than generally perceived and may not correlate well with the edema severity.
Materials and Methods
This study was approved by the institutional review boards (via expedited review) of two hospitals: a tertiary care center and a nearby level 1 trauma center. Neuroradiology staff, fellows, and residents on the neuroradiology rotation had placed suspected PRES cases (based on the initial MRI) in a case file at the time the cases were interpreted, over a 9.5-year period between January 1, 1997, and June 1, 2006. To locate cases of PRES or suspected PRES that may not have been placed in this file, the researchers retrospectively reviewed MRI result logs from that period for any additional PRES cases. Eventually, 111 cases of suspected PRES were compiled on the basis of the initial interpretation results. Later, 76 of the initial 111 were confirmed as PRES on the basis of repeat imaging (n = 60) or, in the cases lacking repeat imaging, via clinical data and thorough chart review (n = 16). The presenting symptom and the reason for the MRI examination were recorded for each patient by correlating the radiology request with the acute symptom of presentation that was noted in the online or written chart. These 76 cases were then reviewed by two nonblinded neuroradiologists.
The MRI examinations were performed on multiple units over a number of years; hence, the imaging sequence parameters varied over time. However, the standard protocol included unenhanced axial FLAIR, T1-weighted, and T2-weighted images in all 76 cases eventually confirmed as PRES, with diffusion-weighted imaging (DWI) (n = 75) and gadolinium-enhanced T1-weighted imaging (n = 69) in most. Typically, between 10 and 15 mL of IV gadolinium-based contrast material was administered for the contrast-enhanced examinations. When available, CT and gradient-echo MR images were also reviewed. Sixty of the 76 patients underwent repeat imaging.
Two staff neuroradiologists jointly and retrospectively reviewed the 111 cases, determining via consensus which cases were truly consistent with PRES and eventually confirming 76 cases as PRES. Inclusion as a confirmed case of PRES was based primarily on regression of the findings of suspected PRES on subsequent imaging, when available (n = 60), or on clinical symptom resolution (when repeat imaging was unavailable) via extensive chart reviews (n = 16). Specifically, criteria for inclusion consisted of one of the following: First, initial MRI showed cortical or subcortical FLAIR and T2-weighted hyperintensity with posterior predominance that resolved or significantly improved on follow-up MRI or CT. Second, initial MRI showed cortical or subcortical FLAIR or T2-weighted hyperintensity with posterior predominance in a parietooccipital distribution typical of PRES but lacking repeat imaging; these cases without repeat imaging were considered to be confirmed PRES only if the patient had a complete return to baseline neurologic status. In addition, it was mandatory for inclusion that such patients had received a medication or experienced a condition known to cause PRES that was treated or removed before complete symptom resolution and that the clinician concurred that the symptoms were related to PRES (such agents and conditions are listed in the introduction) [1–9]. Third, initial MRI showed T2-weighted or FLAIR hyperintensity in the brainstem, basal ganglia, or subcortical or cortical frontal regions without posterior predominance (atypical distribution), and the imaging findings resolved or significantly improved on follow-up MRI in the setting of a cause previously attributed to PRES.
Cases lacking both clinical and imaging followup were excluded. Parietooccipital involvement was not an inclusion criterion because the intent was to detect atypical PRES.
Classification of Edema Severity Based on FLAIR Imaging
In light of previous studies indicating that potentially severe cases involve the brainstem or basal ganglia, or have confluent vasogenic edema with mass effect [6, 7], the reviewers classified the eventually confirmed 76 PRES cases as either mild, moderate, or severe on the basis of the extent of hyperintensity on FLAIR imaging and the presence of mass effect.
Mild—Mild PRES (Fig. 1A, 1B, 1C) was defined as cortical or subcortical white matter edema without parenchymal hemorrhage, mass effect, herniation, or minimal involvement of only one of group of cerebellum, brainstem, or basal ganglia.
Moderate—Moderate PRES (Fig. 2A, 2B, 2C) was defined as confluent edema extending from the cortex to the deep white matter without extension to the ventricular margin, or mild involvement of two of the group of cerebellum, brainstem, or basal ganglia. Mild mass effect but no herniation or midline shift, particularly if parenchymal hemorrhage was present, was also classified as moderate.
Severe—Severe PRES (Fig. 3A, 3B, 3C) was defined as confluent edema extending from the cortex to the ventricle, or edema or hemorrhage causing midline shift or herniation. Alternatively, involvement of all three of the group of cerebellum, brainstem, and basal ganglia was considered severe.
Localization of Lesions and Description
Cases were classified as “yes” or “no” for involvement in the following locations: frontal, temporal, parietooccipital, brainstem, basal ganglia, thalamus, and cerebellum. Basal ganglia involvement was further characterized as to the nuclei involved, and brainstem involvement as to the level. Lesions were also characterized as to whether involving the cortical or subcortical white matter versus deep white matter, and whether there was intracranial hemorrhage, restricted diffusion, contrast enhancement, or unilaterality. Hemorrhage was discerned by a hyperintense sulcal signal on FLAIR or T1-weighted images, CT hyperdensity, or dark signal on gradient-echo images, with description of the abnormalities as parenchymal hemorrhage, subdural, or subarachnoid. All cases were evaluated for signs of venous thrombosis. Cases of enhancement were further described as leptomeningeal or cortical, parenchymal, or pachymeningeal. DWI hyperintensity was recorded and apparent diffusion coefficient (ADC) maps were reviewed for cases after 2001 (when ADC map generation became standard); in cases before 2001, the reviewers noted whether the trace image DWI hyperintensity was greater than that on the b = 0 and T2-weighted image, using PACS localization and manual ADC formula calculation [28, 29] in questionable cases:
where S and S0 are S1 the image intensities at b values of b0 and b1, respectively.
Clinical Correlation of Cause, Follow-Up, and Blood Pressure Measurements
In all 76 patients, the presenting symptom, PRES cause, and other agents potentially causing PRES were recorded. However, 16 of these patients lacked repeat imaging but were included on the basis of clinical and imaging findings typical of PRES, with symptom resolution after therapy. Patients without known causes were included only if their repeat imaging was consistent with PRES. Average and maximum systolic and diastolic blood pressures on the day of the MRI were recorded.
Of 111 patients initially suspected of having PRES, 35 were excluded by repeat imaging (n = 24), lack of clinical or imaging follow-up (n = 10), or death without autopsy (n =1). Of the 24 cases not consistent with PRES on repeat imaging, the most common mimicker was subacute hypoxic–ischemic encephalopathy (HIE) with cortical edema lacking clearly restricted diffusion on the initial MRI; these lesions and the symptoms did not resolve on repeat imaging (n = 10). Other mimickers included bilateral subacute posterior infarcts (n =4), central or extrapontine myelinolysis (n =4), chronic white matter lesions (n = 4), and reversible chemotherapy-related deep white matter lesions without the cortical or subcortical edema usually seen in PRES (n =2).
The remaining, confirmed 76 PRES patients (40 female, 36 male) ranged from 5 to 80 years old (mean, 33.5 years). Sixty of the 76 were confirmed as having PRES on the basis of marked improvement or resolution on repeat imaging. The remaining 16 were confirmed clinically by an extensive chart review; in these, the mean time to symptom resolution based on clinical examination was 10.2 days after MRI. Seventy-three of the 76 were associated with known offending causes (Table 1), most commonly cyclosporine (n = 34), hypertension (n = 17), or eclampsia (n = 5). Regarding the other three, in one the only known medication was steroids, in another acute alcohol withdrawal occurred with no known medications, and in the third anaphylaxis occurred from iodinated contrast material; these three cases all had bilateral parietooccipital involvement on FLAIR and near-resolution of the hyperintensity on follow-up imaging without atrophy, which is typical of PRES. Regarding the edema extent and severity based on FLAIR, 32 (42.1%) were classified as mild, 27 (35.5%) as moderate, and 17 (22.3%) as severe (Figs. 1A, 1B, 1C, 2A, 2B, 2C, 3A, 3B, 3C). The most common presenting symptoms are also listed in Table 1.
TABLE 1: Presenting Symptoms and Causes of Posterior Reversible Encephalopathy Syndrome (PRES) in 76 Patients
Note—CSA = cyclosporine A, TTP/ITP = thrombotic or idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura, PEG = polyethylene glycol, NOS = not otherwise specified.
Include acute decrease in consciousness or in responsiveness or acute confusion.
The regions of brain most commonly involved (Fig. 4) were the parietooccipital (n = 75, 98.7%), frontal (n = 60, 78.9%), and temporal (n = 52, 68.4%). Less common areas of involvement included the cerebellum (n = 26, 34.2%), thalamus (n = 23, 30.3%), brainstem (n = 14, 18.4%), and basal ganglia (lentiform or caudate, n = 9, 11.8%). No cases involved only the orbitofrontal region. Cortical or subcortical white matter edema sparing the deep white matter was present in 54 patients (71.0%), with both cortical and subcortical white matter and deep white matter edema in 22 (29.0%). Only one patient (cocaine usage with severe hypertension) lacked parietooccipital edema, but this patient had severe brainstem, thalamic, and deep white matter edema; this patient dramatically improved and symptoms nearly resolved after undergoing antihypertensive therapy. We considered this a central variant, not an ischemic manifestation of cocaine usage, because no DWI abnormalities were noted on the initial MRI, and the findings nearly resolved on repeat MRI. Another patient with malignant hypertension and predominately brainstem and thalamic involvement occurred but had minimal parietooccipital involvement outside of the brainstem, and hence was counted with the other 75 patients with parietooccipital edema. Also, two tumefactive cases were completely unilateral and simulated neoplasm (Fig. 5A, 5B), with no enhancement; in both, discontinuation of cyclosporine resulted in dramatic imaging and neurologic improvement.
In the 75 patients with PRES on DWI, most (n = 41) had edema isointense to normal-appearing parenchyma on DWI. Twenty-one (28.0%) showed “T2 shine-through” hyperintensity on FLAIR and DWI. Thirteen (17.3%) had restricted diffusion consisting of small, patchy, or punctate areas much less extensive than the surrounding vasogenic edema. Two of the 13 had mild cortical gyral restriction, with a 10–20% ADC decrease relative to normal areas (Fig. 2A, 2B, 2C); on follow-up imaging, those regions lacked restricted diffusion, the edema resolved, and there was minimal focal atrophy much smaller in size than the initial area of decreased ADC. Only a weak correlation was present between the presence of restricted diffusion and the FLAIR severity (r = 0.271, χ2 = 5.443, p = 0.32). Of note, restricted diffusion from PRES was differentiated from HIE because the DWI abnormalities of HIE were more extensive than on FLAIR (the reverse was true with PRES), cortical contrast enhancement in HIE (when present) simulating enhancing PRES did not resolve on repeat MRI, and there were generally poor, irreversible neurologic outcomes with HIE. Also, the restricted diffusion in PRES was either punctate or focally gyriform, without the multifocality of HIE.
Regarding hemorrhagic PRES, there were 13 cases (17.1%): five with parenchymal hemorrhage and 10 with subarachnoid hemorrhage; two had both parenchymal hemorrhage and subarachnoid hemorrhage. Of the eight cases of subarachnoid hemorrhage (without parenchymal hemorrhage) that were initially called subarachnoid hemorrhage on the basis of sulcal hyperintensity on FLAIR, three were confirmed as hemorrhage on CT, T1-weighted imaging, or gradient-echo MRI (Fig. 6A, 6B, 6C, 6D, 6E, 6F). A weak correlation existed between the presence of hemorrhage and the edema extent or severity on FLAIR imaging (r = 0.267, χ2 = 5.415, p = 0.33).
Twenty-six of the 69 PRES patients given IV contrast material had abnormal enhancement (37.7%). Most consisted of mild, gyriform, leptomeningeal or cortical enhancement (n = 25) (Fig. 1A, 1B, 1C); deep white matter (n =1) and dural (n = 2) enhancement also occurred in three cases, simultaneous to leptomeningeal or cortical enhancement. No correlation was noted between the presence of enhancement and the extent or severity of edema on FLAIR (r = 0.072, χ2 = 0.356, p =0.99).
Notably, four PRES patients had known leukodystrophies, two with metachromatic leukodystrophy and two with adrenoleukodystrophy. All four received cyclosporine after bone marrow transplantation. The cortical and subcortical white matter edema was readily discernible from the underlying deep white matter inflammation (Fig. 7A, 7B).
Regarding blood pressure values, the maximum and average systolic and diastolic blood pressure values on the day of MRI were generally less elevated in cyclosporine-related PRES than in hypertensive or eclamptic PRES (Table 2). Two of the 34 cyclosporine-related cases had a maximum systolic blood pressure of less than 140 mm Hg and a maximum diastolic blood pressure of less than 85 mm Hg on the day of the MRI. No significant or weak correlation was noted between the edema severity and the maximum systolic (r = 0.13, p = 0.27) or diastolic (r = 0.02, p = 0.89) blood pressure on the day of MRI. In addition, considering together only the hypertensive or eclamptic patients (n = 22), only weak correlation was noted between the severity of edema and the systolic (r = 0.02, p = 0.94) or diastolic (r = 0.35, p = 0.14) blood pressure.
TABLE 2: Blood Pressure Values (mm Hg) in 76 Patients with Posterior Reversible Encephalopathy Syndrome (PRES)
Average Blood Pressures
All (n = 76)
With Hypertension or Eclampsia (n = 22)
Taking Cyclosporine A (n = 34)
Note—All values are from same day as presenting MRI.
The intent of this study was to show both the typical and atypical distributions and manifestations of PRES using a variety of MRI sequences in one of the largest series of PRES cases. In our study, reversible vasogenic edema was almost always present in the cortical or subcortical white matter of the parietooccipital region, the exception being the uncommon central variant of brainstem and basal ganglia involvement, which has been noted in previous reports [2, 7, 8, 16–18]. It is not entirely known why PRES favors the posterior circulation, but this may arise from a relative lack of sympathetic innervation at the level of the arterioles supplied by the vertebrobasilar system compared with the anterior circulation; this innervation presumably protects the brain from marked increases in intravascular pressure, such as with severe hypertension [13, 30, 31].
PRES is not an entirely posterior phenomenon, but rather appears in a gradient-like fashion from posterior to anterior, presumably reflecting the gradient of sympathetic innervation [27, 30–32]. Accordingly, frontal lobe involvement was present in most of our cases (79%), usually in the posterior portion of the superior frontal gyrus (anterior cerebral artery distribution) and the precentral gyrus (middle cerebral); the lentiform or caudate nuclei were involved in 11.8%, usually being supplied by anterior circulation lenticulostriate branches . This distribution confirms that the “posterior” in “posterior reversible encephalopathy syndrome” is a misnomer because most cases involve anterior circulation structures. However, a posterior predominance is certainly seen in each lobe; for example, the orbitofrontal region was spared in all but the most severe cases. Hence, “multifocal,” “posterior dominant,” or simply “reversible encephalopathy syndrome” may better apply to this reversible syndrome.
We note that central PRES, with brainstem or basal ganglia involvement sparing the parietooccipital region, is rare but certainly occurs, consistent with the low incidence noted in previous case reports; correlation should be made with the blood pressure because these patients usually have extreme hypertension [16–18]. Five such cases were suspected at the outset of this study; one was confirmed as PRES by rapid improvement after antihypertensive therapy, whereas the other four were related to central or extrapontine myelinolysis. A similar-appearing case of PRES in this study had brainstem involvement but was not deemed a central variant because of the minimal presence of parietooccipital edema. Hence, radiologists should be aware that PRES may occasionally present with minimal or no detectable parietooccipital edema. In such cases, it is necessary to exclude other causes of acute brainstem or basal ganglia edema, such as myelinolysis or encephalomyelitis, using a combination of clinical history and follow-up imaging, when necessary.
Two cases of completely unilateral involvement occurred (2.6%), which to our knowledge has not been previously described. The MRI differential diagnosis included neoplasm, encephalitis, and inflammatory or infectious leukoencephalopathy; these entities differ in treatment, may have mass effect, and can undergo biopsy. Hence, we term this variant “tumefacient,” because the severe edema, mass effect, and symptoms dramatically improved with cyclosporine cessation.
Another goal was to evaluate how often hemorrhage occurred in PRES, having previously been described in PRES from various causes [3, 4, 20, 26]. The mechanism of hemorrhage is presumed to arise from the phenomenon of breakthrough perfusion, in which the maximally constricted end arterioles cannot further respond to hyperperfusion; this failed autoregulation leads to macromolecule extravasation and possibly hemorrhage into the cortex or subarachnoid space . This occurred in 17.1% of the patients (n = 13), with a weak correlation noted between the presence of hemorrhage and the extent or severity of edema on FLAIR imaging. The most common type was subarachnoid hemorrhage (13.2%); less commonly, parenchymal hemorrhage was noted (6.6%). However, one could criticize the use of FLAIR to detect subarachnoid hemorrhage because nonhemorrhagic exudates may create sulcal hyperintensity . This methodology was used because FLAIR was routinely available in this retrospective study.
Regarding this potential criticism, eight (10.5%) of the 13 cases had confirmatory findings of either subarachnoid hemorrhage or parenchymal hemorrhage on CT, T1-weighted imaging, or gradient-echo MRI, regardless of the FLAIR findings. Hence, the hemorrhage frequency is likely between 10.5% and 17.1%, and FLAIR may be suitable to screen for subarachnoid hemorrhage in PRES because it is a routine MRI sequence in PRES evaluation. Also, in patients with subarachnoid hemorrhage who do not have parenchymal hemorrhage, the apparent subarachnoid hemorrhage on FLAIR resolved on repeat imaging as the edema waned. Hence, foci of high sulcal signal on FLAIR (when parenchymal hemorrhage is not present) may ultimately be of little consequence because this finding correlated poorly with extent or severity of edema on FLAIR imaging and usually resolved after removal or treatment of the offending agent.
On DWI, the most common appearances in this study were isointensity (54.7%) and DWI bright T2 shine-through (28%), as shown previously [19–22]. Diffusion restriction occurred in a minority (17.3%) of patients; it was usually punctate and surrounded by much larger areas of edema with no ensuing atrophy. The presence of this finding correlated poorly with the FLAIR extent or severity. However, two patients (2.7%) did have a focal gyral configuration of restriction, with mild ensuing atrophy and residual neurologic deficit. In this regard, significant debate has developed in recent literature regarding the various DWI phenomena of PRES. Although lesions are typically isointense related to T2 washout (a balance of T2 effects and increased water diffusibility), T2 shine-through can arise from T2 prolongation being the dominant contributor to signal intensity, noted as ADC and b = 0 DWI hyperintensity greater than the trace DWI. Hypointense lesions may also occur from further increased diffusibility [19, 22].
A conundrum arises in the setting of DWI hyperintensity and “pseudonormal” ADC from intravoxel averaging of focal cytotoxic edema in larger areas of vasogenic edema; these lesions can progress to infarction [6, 23–25]. Several theories address this cytotoxic effect. First, hyperperfusion may cause severe mass effect from vasogenic edema compressing the local microcirculation, with pseudonormal or slightly elevated ADC values surrounded by larger areas of vasogenic edema [6, 12, 23–25]. Second, vasoconstriction may be a response to the edema, eventually causing cytotoxicity if not reversed; accordingly, narrowed intracranial arteries have been noted in hypertensive human and animal models [14, 25, 35–37]. Third, spasm could occur in response to the subarachnoid hemorrhage that uncommonly occurs in PRES. Also, aggressive correction of hypertension may induce ischemia . On the basis of this study, tiny or punctate restricted diffusion foci appear to be unlikely to lead to atrophy, but a larger (> 3 mm), gyral pattern may lead to irreversible insult. Notably, even gyral restricted diffusion partially reversed; repeat MRI in such cases excludes alternative insults such as HIE.
The incidence of contrast enhancement in PRES has not been previously well described in a large series; contrast use is only briefly mentioned in large studies of PRES [1, 4, 7, 19–20, 24]. Regarding enhancement, a gyriform pattern has been described [2, 20, 26, 27]. We found a higher frequency (37.7%) than expected from the literature [4, 20, 39]; the exception is a study noting enhancement in 33% of patients . These discrepancies may relate to various factors, including contrast bolus timing, amount, and type, and may also be caused by lack of contrast use in many studies, possibly because contrast-enhanced imaging is not necessary to diagnose PRES. In addition, the degree of enhancement could relate to the cause; transplantation drugs such as cyclosporine can cause direct endothelial injury and subsequent blood–brain barrier breakdown, potentially differing in pathophysiology from classic hyperperfusion syndromes such as hypertension or eclampsia [40–43].
The lack of elevated blood pressure in several patients in our series supports the possibility that enhancement in the nonhypertensive cases may result from direct endothelial injury causing blood–brain barrier breakdown. In hypertensive cases, the elevated hydrostatic pressure could cause capillary endothelial injury, hyperpermeability, and ultimately enhancement or hemorrhage from blood–brain barrier breakdown, particularly if combined with venous congestion or constriction [4, 44–47]. We found no correlation between the extent on FLAIR and the presence of enhancement, and we conclude that although contrast material is not required to evaluate PRES, it may aid in excluding other causes.
Regarding blood pressure the day of the MRI, only weak correlations were found between blood pressure elevation and severity of edema on FLAIR. Blood pressure may even be normal in some cases of PRES, particularly in the setting of chemotherapy, immunosuppressive therapy, or sepsis [48, 49]. A potential criticism regarding our measurements is that the measurement at the time of MRI is not necessarily representative of the initial insult because the findings on MRI could persist for days after the symptom onset. Also, blood pressures can be labile, and our determination of MRI severity could relate to the timing after the symptom onset rather than the intrinsic severity. We note that our institutional standard has been to perform MRI of suspected PRES within 24 hours of admission, but given the retrospective nature of this study and the complexity of the cases, it was difficult to note the exact time of MRI after symptom onset.
Two potentially new causes of PRES were identified: anaphylaxis as a reaction to iodinated IV contrast material and alcohol withdrawal. Both lacked a hypertensive history and improved on repeat imaging. In the case of anaphylaxis, PRES is possibly related to the release of endotoxins with resultant endothelial injury; we could not formulate a plausible reason for PRES in the setting of alcohol withdrawal without hypertension. Other medications or illicit drug use could cause PRES but were not noted on laboratory testing or extensive social histories.
In conclusion, atypical distributions and imaging manifestations of PRES have a higher incidence than commonly perceived. Given the common involvement of the regions supplied by the anterior circulation, the term “multifocal,” or simply removing “posterior” from the term “posterior reversible encephalopathy syndrome,” may be more appropriate terminology. The atypical manifestations of contrast enhancement, restricted diffusion, and hemorrhage all correlate poorly with the edema severity on FLAIR MRI and can resolve on repeat imaging with appropriate therapy.
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