EHR Report

Early management of patients with acute ischemic stroke


Significant changes have occurred in the updated American Heart Association Stroke Council’s recommendations for early management of acute ischemic stroke (AIS). Conceptually, early management can be separated into initial triage and decisions about intervention to restore blood flow with thrombolysis or mechanical thrombectomy. If reperfusion therapy is not appropriate, then the focus is on management to minimize further damage from the stroke, decrease the likelihood of recurrence, and lessen secondary problems related to the stroke.

Dr. William Callahan and Dr. Neil Skolnik of Abington (Pa.) Jefferson Health

Dr. William Callahan and Dr. Neil Skolnik

All patients with AIS should receive noncontrast CT to determine if there is evidence of a hemorrhagic stroke and, if such evidence exists, than the patient is not a candidate for thrombolysis. Intravenous alteplase should be considered for patients who present within 3 hours of stroke onset and for selected patients presenting between 3-4.5 hours after stroke onset (for more details, see Table 6 in the guidelines). Selected patients with AIS who present within 6-24 hours of last time they were known to be normal and who have large vessel occlusion in the anterior circulation, may be candidates for mechanical thrombectomy in specialized centers. Patients who are not candidates for acute interventions should then be managed according to early stroke management guidelines.

Early stroke management for patients with AIS admitted to medical floors involves attention to blood pressure, glucose, and antiplatelet therapy. For patients with blood pressure lower than 220/120 mm Hg who did not receive IV alteplase or thrombectomy, treatment of hypertension in the first 48-72 hours after an AIS does not change the outcome. It is reasonable when patients have BP greater than or equal to 220/120 mm Hg, to lower blood pressure by 15% during the first 24 hours after onset of stroke. Starting or restarting antihypertensive therapy during hospitalization in patients with blood pressure higher than 140/90 mm Hg who are neurologically stable improves long-term blood pressure control and is considered a reasonable strategy.

For patients with noncardioembolic AIS, the use of antiplatelet agents rather than oral anticoagulation is recommended. Patients should be treated with aspirin 160 mg-325 mg within 24-48 hours of presentation. In patients unsafe or unable to swallow, rectal or nasogastric administration is recommended. In patients with minor stroke, 21 days of dual-antiplatelet therapy (aspirin and clopidogrel) started within 24 hours can decrease stroke recurrence for the first 90 days after a stroke. This recommendation is based on a single study, the CHANCE trial, in a homogeneous population in China, and its generalizability is not known. If a patient had an AIS while already on aspirin, there is some evidence supporting a decreased risk of major cardiovascular events and recurrent stroke in patients switching to an alternative antiplatelet agent or combination antiplatelet therapy. Because of methodologic issues in the those studies, the guideline concludes that, for those already on aspirin, it is of unclear benefit to increase the dose of aspirin, switch to a different antiplatelet agent, or add a second antiplatelet agent. Switching to warfarin is not beneficial for secondary stroke prevention. High-dose statin therapy should be initiated. For patients with AIS in the setting of atrial fibrillation, oral anticoagulation can be started within 4-14 days after the stroke. One study showed that anticoagulation should not be started before 4 days after the stroke, with a hazard ratio of 0.53 for starting anticoagulation at 4-14 days, compared with less than 4 days.

Hyperglycemia should be controlled to a range of 140-180 mg/dL, because higher values are associated with worse outcomes. Oxygen should be used if needed to maintain oxygen saturation greater than 94%. High-intensity statin therapy should be used, and smoking cessation is strongly encouraged for those who use tobacco, with avoidance of secondhand smoke whenever possible.

Patients should be screened for dysphagia before taking anything per oral, including medications. A nasogastric tube may be considered within the first 7 days, if patients are dysphagic. Oral hygiene protocols may include antibacterial mouth rinse, systematic oral care, and decontamination gel to decrease the risk of pneumonia .

For deep vein thrombosis prophylaxis, intermittent pneumatic compression, in addition to the aspirin that a patient is on is reasonable, and the benefit of prophylactic-dose subcutaneous heparin (unfractionated heparin or low-molecular-weight heparin) in immobile patients with AIS is not well established.

Next Article: