Thrombolysis and the Aging Brain

The bleeding complications of thrombolysis are well-described, but frequently under-appreciated in the acute setting. Stroke patients often disappear upstairs after treatment in the Emergency Department quickly enough that we rarely see the neurologic worsening associated with post-thrombolysis hemorrhage.

Risk factors for post-tPA ICH are well-known, but often difficult to precisely pin down for an individual patient. This study pools patients from up to 15 studies to evaluate the effect of leukoariosis on post-tPA hemorrhage. Leukoariosis, essentially, is a cerebral small vessel disease likely related to chronic ischemic damage. It has been long-recognized as a risk factor for increased hemorrhage and poor outcome, independent of age at treatment.

In this study, authors pooled approximately 5,500 patients, half of which were identified to have leukoariosis. The unadjusted absolute risk of symptomatic ICH in those without leukoariosis was 4.1%, while the risk of those with was 6.6%. Then, looking at the 2,700 patients with leukoariosis, those with mild disease had an unadjusted absolute risk of 4.0%, compared with 10.2% for those with moderate or severe. Similar trends towards worse functional outcomes were also seen with regards to worsening leukoariosis.

The moral of the story: the baseline health of the brain matters. When discussing the risks, benefits, and alternatives for informed consent with a family, these substantial risks in those patients with leukoariosis should be clearly conveyed with regards to appropriateness of tPA when otherwise potentially indicated.

“Leukoaraiosis, intracerebral hemorrhage, and functional outcome after acute stroke thrombolysis”

http://www.neurology.org/content/early/2017/01/27/WNL.0000000000003605.abstract

More CLEAR!

Ah, the CLEAR trial – a trial evaluating the efficacy of intraventricular injections of alteplase for intracerebral hemorrhage with acute obstructive hydrocephalus. In other words, treating brain bleeds with an agent responsible for brain bleeds. It is not quite as nonsensical as it seems, however, as improved resolution of the intraventricular blood is linked to improved outcomes.

This trial, however, performed over the course of six years and enrolling 500 patients, fails to find anything reliable in favor of alteplase – a rather inconsequential end to a decade’s worth of build-up from the initial and phase II trial. At the end of the day, there was no significant difference between either treatment with regard to the primary outcome, patients attaining a mRS of 0-3.

It should also be noted the preliminary results from this trial were presented last year at the International Stroke Conference with breathless coverage:
CLEAR III: tPA Clot Removal Hope for Intraventricular Hemorrhage

Along with the lead author stating “This treatment saves lives. Our results suggest that physicians should begin to think about using it for stable hemorrhagic stroke patients.”

Which, now that we can all review the results together, is obviously not the case – nor is it their conclusion in the published article. These results do raise some questions – mortality was lower in the intervention group, and patients with improve clot evacuation also tended to do better – regarding potential subgroups for benefit. However, without further prospective data to confirm these signals, this intervention should continue to be reserved for controlled trials.

“Thrombolytic removal of intraventricular haemorrhage in treatment of severe stroke: results of the randomised, multicentre, multiregion, placebo-controlled CLEAR III trial”
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28081952

Some Old News About Thrombolysis Before Endovascular Therapy

We’ve spent a little bit of energy on this blog teasing out the appropriate indications for endovascular therapy, and and we’ve used a few of those words to discuss whether thrombolysis prior to is necessary. I am of the opinion: probably not.

It turns out, there are many other prominent neurologists who share that same opinion. Unfortunately, this article is just a rehash of prior data without any new specific insight. Of course, the lay medical press does their typical job of creating definitive, misleading headlines:
Stroke: No Benefit from Adding tPA to Thrombectomy
No Benefit for IV tPA Before Mechanical Thrombectomy in Ischemic Stroke

This is a small post-hoc analysis of the 291 patients undergoing treatment in the SWIFT and STAR trials. Of these, 131 did not receive thrombolysis prior to intervention, with the most common exclusion being either presence of an elevated INR and oral anticoagulation or symptom onset being >4 hours prior to hospital arrival. Other, less common exclusions included blood pressure exclusions, hypoglycemia, and prior strokes. Some patients also received bridging tPA or reduced-dose tPA, as determined appropriate by the interventionalist.

In such a small analysis such as this, little reliable can be made of the results – except to generally say there was no obvious signal confirming nor refuting the appropriateness of thrombolysis prior to intervention. Hemorrhagic complications were similar between groups, as were patient-oriented outcomes. At the least, they offer the appropriate weak conclusion supported by these data: prospective trials are reasonable.

“Combined Intravenous Thrombolysis and Thrombectomy vs Thrombectomy Alone for Acute Ischemic Stroke: A Pooled Analysis of the SWIFT and STAR Studies”
http://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamaneurology/article-abstract/2596239

No Mandate for Hyperbaric Therapy in CO Poisoning

The new year – actually, the end of the old year – brings us a new update on the management of carbon monoxide poisoning, as distilled into an ACEP Clinical Policy statement. There are three elements to their update, addressing specific management questions in the context of carbon monoxide toxicity:

  • Don’t rely exclusively on non-invasive means for CO measurement.
  • Hyperbaric oxygen therapy is neither proven nor disproven of benefit.
  • Cardiac testing provides useful prognostic information.

The most impactful recommendation of the three is the one for HBO therapy, which is either dismissed out-of-hand or pursued with such zealotry that eligible patients are airlifted to far-flung dive chambers for treatment. In theory, HBO therapy helps reduce the delayed neuropathology and cognitive burden related to lipid peroxidation and other toxic metabolites. However, these authors appropriately synthesize the low-quality evidence into a conclusion that HBO therapy has no proven advantage to high-flow oxygen.

As with any therapy for which the evidence is poor, there are proponents on both sides and substantial practice variation. This Clinical Policy does not state HBO is inappropriate or not beneficial for carbon monoxide poisoning, merely the evidence is inconclusive. Sometimes, when the evidence is insufficient to provide an answer, the magnitude of benefit is small or clinically unimportant. In this case, I’m not even sure such a conclusion regarding the scope of benefit can be made – the foundational evidence is simply too unreliable to make any practice-influencing recommendations.

“Clinical Policy: Critical Issues in the Evaluation and Management of Adult Patients Presenting to the Emergency Department With Acute Carbon Monoxide Poisoning”
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27993310

tPA For Wake-Up Strokes – “Safe!”

It’s medical news nonsense time again – this time featuring our old favorite, tPA for stroke.

“Tissue Plasminogen Activators Safe for Patients Who Wake Up with Stroke Symptoms” reports HCP Live, and featured in the ACEP daily e-mail newsletter. Oddly enough, this article was actually initially published back in July before being picked up by the health news blog world here in December.

As the headline suggests, this is an article regarding “wake-up” strokes, those with an unknown time of onset because the patient was last seen normal prior to sleep. The authors hypothesize this might represent an otherwise missed, but eligible, population if their stroke onset was close to waking.

But, in this open-label study spanning 3 years of enrollment, there is absolutely nothing conclusive to be said. During this period, across five centers, these authors managed to enroll only 40 patients – the vast majority of whom had NIHSS less than 10, and four of whom were mimics. Following treatment, six suffered intracerebral hemorrhage, two developed angioedema, and one suffered systemic hemorrhage – and thus, the apparent conclusion, that tPA is “safe” in this population.

In reality, this hardly tells us anything of the sort – generalizing results from this cohort of mostly small strokes to a larger treatment population is obviously inappropriate.  But, the authors state it forms the foundation of future trials – and, no doubt, they are underway already.

“Prospective, Open-Label Safety Study of Intravenous Recombinant Tissue Plasminogen Activator in Wake-Up Stroke”

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27273860

Endovascular Therapy for Large Ischemic Cores

The vast majority of the important evidence regarding the use of endovascular therapy for stroke has substantial limitations. The critical studies, with the largest magnitude of benefit, used strict imaging criteria to limit interventions to large-vessel occlusions with only small-volume ischemic cores surrounded by large regions of surviving tissue. Further generalizing these data to the remaining stroke population represents a significant challenge.

This small study tries to describe the benefit of endovascular treatment in a population with larger ischemic core volumes, specifically those greater than 50 mL – and it’s useless. They have 56 patients in their retrospective case-control comparison, and are missing long-term follow-up data for 9. Outcomes, yes, are better for the endovascular therapy group – a handful of patients had low or minimal disability, while none of the control patients achieved an mRS 0-2. Safety outcomes, of course, are a total wash in a small sample such as this. This would have made for a great conference abstract, but it is hardly compelling or significant data.

The main notable feature of this study is mostly how it reflects the real-world deployment of this therapy, regardless of the guidelines and current evidence.  Many centers have expanded the use of endovascular intervention for patients beyond the scope of the original trials.  These are very, very weak data – and, even though I don’t disagree in principle with imaging-guided revascularization, the further away from established evidence we drift, the lower value the intervention becomes.

“Endovascular Treatment for Patients With Acute Stroke Who Have a Large Ischemic Core and Large Mismatch Imaging Profile”
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27820620

No CT Before LP?

There are a couple schools of thought regarding the need for a CT before an LP in the setting of infectious cerebral disease. The traditionalist school of thought: herniation. The pragmatist school: no big deal.

This article falls on the side of “no big deal”, which was probably the bias of the authors prior to its conception. These authors looked at comatose children in Malawi with suspected malaria. They analyzed the mortality outcomes of 1,827 patients, including 1,470 who received an LP and 357 who did not. Unadjusted mortality was higher in those who did not receive an LP, for which the authors attempted to adjust using propensity-based analyses, or by directly comparing those who had documented brain swelling on MRI or with papilledema. Using their admittedly small numbers in their retrospective cohort, they did not find any signals of harm relating to overall mortality or herniation precipitated by LP within 12 hours of procedure.

We probably will only ever get this level of evidence regarding the safety of LP in the critically ill with elevated ICP secondary to infection. Adverse events are rare, regardless, and it will always be difficult to shake out the confounding features of the malignant infection. I tend to agree with these authors that LP is safe in a stable patient without localizing neurologic signs, but it is entirely reasonable to take the opposite view.

“Safety of lumbar puncture in comatose children with clinical features of cerebral malaria”
http://www.neurology.org/content/early/2016/10/28/WNL.0000000000003372

Taking First-Time Seizures Seriously

Last week, I covered a disastrous prevalence study that almost certainly over-estimates the frequency of pulmonary embolism in syncope. Today, something similar – the frequency of epilepsy in patients presenting to the Emergency Department with first-time seizure.

The most recent American College of Emergency Physicians position statement regarding first-time seizures is fairly clear: first-time seizures need not be started on anti-epileptic therapy. The thinking goes, of course, that few patients would be ultimately diagnosed with epilepsy, and most of those initiated on anti-epileptics would be exposed only to their adverse effects without any potential for benefit.

This small study tries to better clarify the frequency of an epilepsy diagnosis. At a single center, during convenience business hours Monday through Friday, consecutive patients with first-time seizure of uncertain etiology were screened for enrollment. During their enrollment period, they were able to capture 71 patients for whom they were able to complete an EEG in the Emergency Department. Of these, 15 (21%) patients were diagnosed with epilepsy based on their ED EEG. All of these patients were then initiated on an anti-epileptic, most commonly levetiracetam. Anti-epileptic therapy was additionally started on two patients with abnormal EEGs and structural brain disease on imaging, one of whom was able to be contacted in follow-up with a repeat EEG showing epilepsy. These authors use these data to suggest potential benefit for EEG performed in the ED.

This is a fairly reasonable conclusion, although the level of evidence from this single study is weak. This is probably another example of the ED filling a gap in outpatient follow-up; it would almost certainly be perfectly safe to discharge these patients without investigation or initiation of therapy if an ambulatory EEG could be arranged within a few days. Further, larger-scale evaluation of the value of an ED EEG would be needed to modify our current approach.

“The First-Time Seizure Emergency Department Electroencephalogram Study.”
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27745763

Shaking Out Stroke Mimics

In a world of continued aggressive guideline- and pharmaceutical-sponsored expansion of stroke treatment with thrombolytics, this article fills and important need – better codifying the predictors of stroke mimics. While other editorials espouse the need to be fast without being sure, this is frankly irresponsible medicine – and, in resource-constrained environments, unsustainable.

These authors at two academic centers performed a retrospective clinical and imaging review of 784 patients evaluated for potential acute cerebral ischemia. Patients were excluded if they had signs of acute stroke on initial non-contrast imaging, and if they did not subsequently undergo MRI. Based on review of the totality of clinical information for each patient, 41% of this cohort were deemed stroke mimics. The authors scoring system, then derived 6 variables – and 3 or more were present, the chance of stroke mimic being cause of the current presentation was 87.2%. Their criteria:

  • Absence of facial droop
  • Age <50 y/o
  • Absence of atrial fibrillation
  • SBP <150 mm Hg
  • Presence of isolated sensory deficit
  • History of seizure disorder

When the rate of tPA administration to stroke mimics is ~15%, and 30-40% of patients evaluated for stroke are stroke mimics – there is a lot of waste and potential harm occurring here. These authors suggest the use of this score could potentially halve these errant administrations for 94% sensitivity, or cut errant administrations down to 2% with 90% sensitivity. Considering the patients for which stroke/stroke mimic is an ambiguous diagnosis, it is reasonably likely the symptoms are of lesser severity – and in the range for which tPA is of most tenuously “proven” value. While their rule has not been prospectively validated, some of these elements certainly have face validity, and can be incorporated into current practice at least as a reminder.

“FABS: An Intuitive Tool for Screening of Stroke Mimics in the Emergency Department”

http://stroke.ahajournals.org/content/early/2016/08/04/STROKEAHA.116.013842.abstract

Don’t Stop at the Headline

The verdict is in: “Aspiration Thrombectomy No Help for Large-Clot Strokes”, reports MedPage Today.

Except, they’re not precisely correct – in a way, you could even say they’re wrong.

This is THERAPY, an endovascular trial in acute stroke featuring the Penumbra aspiration device.  This is somewhat unique, as the technology differs from the otherwise popularized Solitaire retrieval system. This trial is also different from the most contemporary comparators, as its imaging criteria did not rely on perfusion imaging, but, rather, simply large-vessel occlusion with a clot length of 8mm or greater.

The results of the trial, as you might have picked up from the lay press headline, were negative – that is to say, they did not reach statistical significance. Their primary endpoint for modified Rankin Scale of 0-2 was achieved in 38% receiving endovascular treatment and 30% receiving intravenous thrombolysis alone, and this 8% absolute difference produced a p-value of only 0.52. However, the trial was initially scheduled to enroll 692 patients to be powered to detect a 10.6% difference, but stopped enrollment after 108 based on the publication of other positive endovascular trials.

So, simply put, this trial tells us hardly anything. Is the Penumbra system just as good as Solitare? Probably, but perhaps we’ll never know for certain. Does the 8% difference seen in this trial reflect the lower magnitude of effect of treatment relating to lack of perfusion imaging? Probably, as well, based on the the larger evidentiary context.

But, at the minimum, the medical reporting has simply gone off course with their headline.

“Aspiration Thrombectomy After Intravenous Alteplase Versus Intravenous Alteplase Alone”
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27486173