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Original Investigation
February 2016

Effect of Hemodynamics on Stroke Risk in Symptomatic Atherosclerotic Vertebrobasilar Occlusive Disease

Author Affiliations
  • 1Department of Neurosurgery, University of Illinois at Chicago
  • 2Department of Neurology and Rehabilitation, University of Illinois at Chicago
  • 3Department of Mathematics & Computer Science, Lake Forest College, Lake Forest, Illinois
  • 4Center for Magnetic Resonance Research, University of Illinois at Chicago
  • 5Departments of Neurology and Epidemiology, Columbia University, New York, New York
  • 6Departments of Neurosurgery and Neurology, Washington University in St Louis, St Louis, Missouri
  • 7Department of Neurology, UCLA (University of California, Los Angeles)
  • 8Department of Medicine, Division of Neurology, University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
  • 9Department of Neurology, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia
  • 10Department of Neurology, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Boston, Massachusetts
  • 11Mallinkrodt Institute of Radiology, Washington University in St Louis, St Louis, Missouri
  • 12Department of Translational Science & Molecular Medicine, Michigan State University College of Human Medicine, Grand Rapids, Michigan
  • 13Mercy Health Hauenstein Neurosciences, Grand Rapids, Michigan
JAMA Neurol. 2016;73(2):178-185. doi:10.1001/jamaneurol.2015.3772

Importance  Atherosclerotic vertebrobasilar (VB) occlusive disease is a significant etiology of posterior circulation stroke, with regional hypoperfusion as an important potential contributor to stroke risk.

Objective  To test the hypothesis that, among patients with symptomatic VB stenosis or occlusion, those with distal blood flow compromise as measured by large-vessel quantitative magnetic resonance angiography (QMRA) are at higher risk of subsequent posterior circulation stroke.

Design, Setting, and Participants  A prospective, blinded, longitudinal cohort study was conducted at 5 academic hospital-based centers in the United States and Canada; 82 patients from inpatient and outpatient settings were enrolled. Participants with recent VB transient ischemic attack or stroke and 50% or more atherosclerotic stenosis or occlusion in vertebral and/or basilar arteries underwent large-vessel flow measurement in the VB territory using QMRA. Physicians performing follow-up assessments were blinded to QMRA flow status. Follow-up included monthly telephone calls for 12 months and biannual clinical visits (for a minimum of 12 months, and up to 24 months or the final visit). Enrollment took place from July 1, 2008, to July 31, 2013, with study completion on June 30, 2014; data analysis was performed from October 1, 2014, to April 10, 2015.

Exposure  Standard medical management of stroke risk factors.

Main Outcomes and Measures  The primary outcome was VB-territory stroke.

Results  Of the 82 enrolled patients, 72 remained eligible after central review of their angiograms. Sixty-nine of 72 patients completed the minimum 12-month follow-up; median follow-up was 23 (interquartile range, 14-25) months. Distal flow status was low in 18 of the 72 participants (25%) included in the analysis and was significantly associated with risk for a subsequent VB stroke (P = .04), with 12- and 24-month event-free survival rates of 78% and 70%, respectively, in the low-flow group vs 96% and 87%, respectively, in the normal-flow group. The hazard ratio, adjusted for age and stroke risk factors, in the low distal flow status group was 11.55 (95% CI, 1.88-71.00; P = .008). Medical risk factor management at 6-month intervals was similar between patients with low and normal distal flow. Distal flow status remained significantly associated with risk even when controlling for the degree of stenosis and location.

Conclusions and Relevance  Distal flow status determined using a noninvasive and practical imaging tool is robustly associated with risk for subsequent stroke in patients with symptomatic atherosclerotic VB occlusive disease. Identification of high-risk patients has important implications for future investigation of more aggressive interventional or medical therapies.