Protruding aortic plaques – especially those with mobile properties – on transesophageal echocardiography (TEE) are a potential source of stroke and systemic embolism in the elderly. Whether the various morphologies of atheromas with mobile components represent potential differences in the risk for embolic events has not been thoroughly elucidated. The goal of the present study was to determine the association between embolic events and the various types of mobile lesions in the thoracic aorta. Our population consisted of 569 consecutive patients (age 18–83 years) referred for TEE over 27 months; 108 (19%) of them were referred to evaluate recent embolism (cerebral in 97 and peripheral or both in 11; group I) and the remaining 461 were admitted for reasons unrelated to embolism (group II). In group I, 35 patients (32%) exhibited protruding plaques; those were fixed in 10 (9%) and with a mobile component in 25 (23%). In group II, plaques were found in only 13 patients (3%); fixed in 9 (2%) and mobile in 4 (1%). Twenty-four patients with mobile lesions in group I were > 50 years old, and 21 of them (88%) were > 60 years old. While the presence of fixed plaques was associated with a moderate increase in the risk for systemic embolism (adjusted odds ratio 4.1; 95% confidence interval 1.3–56.4), mobile lesions were linked to a striking augmentation of this risk (odds ratio 30.1; 95% confidence interval 7.8–132.6). The majority of mobile lesions (76%) in group I represented disrupted atheromas with charateristic ulcerations or echolucency within the plaque suggestive of intraatheroma hemorrhage, whereas these TEE features were not observed in 89% of the mobile lesions in group II (p = 0.0003). We conclude that among the various types of mobile aortic lesions, the disrupted protruding plaques are a major risk factor for stroke and embolic events in the elderly.