Cerebral ischaemia, the most frequent serious complication of carotid endarterectomy (CEA), usually occurs in the early postoperative period and is often the result of thromboembolism. We hypothesized that the early postoperative detection of microembolic ultrasonic signals (MES) with transcranial Doppler ultrasound (TCD) may be of value in identifying patients at risk of postoperative cerebral ischaemia and that the MES rate may be an important determinant in risk prediction. Sixty-five patients undergoing CEA were studied at intervals up to 24 h postoperatively with TCD insonation of the middle cerebral artery ipsilateral to the operation side. Study design was open and prospective with blinded off-line analysis of MES counts. End-points were any focal ischaemic neurological deficit and/or death up to 30 days postoperatively. MES were detected in 69% of cases during the first hour postoperatively with counts ranging from 0 to 212 MES/h (means 19 MES/h; SEM +2- 4.5; median 4 MES/h). In seven cases (10.8%) counts were > 50 MES/h. Five of these seven cases developed ischaemic neurological deficits in the territory of the insonated middle cerebral artery during the monitoring period. The positive predictive value of counts > 50 MES/h for cerebral ischaemia was 0.71. Frequent signals (> 50 MES/h) occur in approximately 10% of cases in the early postoperative phase of CEA and are predictive for the development of ipsilateral focal cerebral ischaemia.