Normal acutely performed CT scan of the brain may give a false sense of safety prior to use of antiplatelets in transient focal (2017)

Type of publication:
Conference abstract

*McNeela N.; *Srinivasan M.

Cerebrovascular Diseases; Jul 2017; vol. 43 ; p. 116

Transient focal neurological episodes (TFNE) are frequently assumed to be transient ischaemic attacks (TIAs) in older patients who are then started on antiplatelets for stroke prevention. Imaging with a CT scan of the brain reported as normal or not suggesting haemorrhage can give a false sense of security with regard to therapeutic decision making. Current UK stroke guidelines do not emphasise the need for imaging (either CT or MRI) in transient ischaemic attacks with NICE guidance recommending treat with aspirin immediately and then refer to stroke services for further management. Imaging is then only recommended for patients where the vascular territory or pathology is uncertain with diffusion weighted MRI scans. In cases where MRI is contraindicated second line imaging is a CT head. We present two cases of patients who presented with symptoms of TFNEs treated as TIAs who then subsequently developed haemorrhagic strokes. The first case is of an 80 year old lady with new onset atrial fibrillation who presented with transient face and arm paraesthesia and dysarthria. Following a normal CT head she was started on anticoagulation and discharged home. She subsequently represented with a further two episodes and each time underwent a repeat imaging which again showed no abnormalities until she eventually succumbed to a massive right cortical intracranial haemorrhage. The second case involves a 68 year old gentleman with no significant past medical history other than a recent headache who presented with recurrent symptoms of left face and arm paraesthesia and dysarthria. A CT scan of the brain was normal and so he was treated with antiplatelets for a presumed TIA and discharged. However within six hours he deteriorated with dense left hemiplegia and reduced consciousness. A repeat CT showed a large right frontoparietal bleed with midline shift requiring referral to neurosurgeons. These cases highlight how a CT head in an acute presentation with transient symptoms can be misleading. One option would be consideration of blood sensing MRI scans in investigation of TFNE verses TIA diagnoses. As TFNEs often to present as descending paresthesia, we would recommend all patients with this presentation to undergo urgent inpatient MRI scans before being commenced on treatment.