Defining minor symptoms in acute ischemic stroke.


BACKGROUND: Thrombolysis is often withheld from acute ischemic stroke patients presenting with mild symptoms; however, up to 40% of these patients end up with a poor outcome when left untreated. Since there is lack of consensus on the definition of minor symptoms, we aimed at addressing this issue by looking for features that would better predict functional outcomes at 3 months. METHODS: Among all acute ischemic stroke patients admitted to our Stroke Unit (n = 1,229), we selected a cohort of patients who arrived within 24 hours from symptoms onset, with baseline NIHSS ≤6, not treated with thrombolysis (n = 304). Epidemiological data, comorbidities, radiological features and clinical presentation (NIHSS items) were collected to identify predictors of outcome. Our cohort was tested against minor stroke definitions selected from the literature and a newly proposed one. RESULTS: Three months after stroke onset, 97 patients (31.9%) had mRS ≥ 2. Independent predictors of poor outcome were age (OR 0.97 [95% CI 0.95-9.99]) and baseline NIHSS score (OR 0.79 [95% CI 0.67-0.94]), while cardioembolic aetiology was negatively associated (OR 3.29 [95% CI 1.51-7.14]). Items of NIHSS associated with poor outcome were impairment of right motor arm (OR 0.49 [95% CI 0.27-0.91]) or the involvement of any of the motor items (OR 0.69 [95% CI 0.48-0.99]). The definition of minor stroke as NIHSS ≤3 and the new proposed definition had the highest sensitivity and accuracy and were independent predictors of outcome. CONCLUSIONS: Our study confirmed that in spite of a low NIHSS score, one third of patients had poor outcome. As already described, age and NIHSS score remained independent predictors of poor outcome even in mild stroke. Also, motor impairment appeared a major determinant of poor outcome. The new proposed definition of minor stroke featured the NIHSS score and the NIHSS items that better predicted functional outcome. Awareness that even minor stroke can yield to poor outcome should sensitize patients to arrive early to the ED and neurologists to administer rt-PA.