Introduction: Incomplete evaluation of stroke patients may result in an unclear diagnosis. Our objective was to determine if older stroke patients more often undergo incomplete diagnostic evaluations versus younger patients in an international cohort.
Patients and methods: The Embolic Stroke of Undetermined Source Global Registry was a retrospective cohort of consecutive stroke patients evaluated at 19 stroke centers in 19 countries. Diagnostic evaluation was considered as complete if the patient had, at a minimum, brain computed tomography or magnetic resonance imaging with evidence of infarction, extracranial and intracranial vascular imaging, electrocardiography, ≥24 h of cardiac rhythm monitoring, and echocardiography. Patients were diagnosed with Embolic Stroke of Undetermined Source if brain imaging confirmed a nonlacunar infarction and no stroke etiology was determined after complete evaluation. Completeness of evaluation was compared between patients ≥75 versus <75 years old.
Results: The registry included 2132 patients with recent ischemic stroke during 2013–2014, of which 349 were diagnosed with Embolic Stroke of Undetermined Source. Embolic Stroke of Undetermined Source patients ≥75 years were less likely to undergo brain magnetic resonance imaging (74% versus 89%, p = 0.001), transesophageal echocardiography (22% versus 39%, p = 0.005), and combination transthoracic and transesophageal echocardiography (16% versus 32%, p = 0.005) compared with Embolic Stroke of Undetermined Source patients <75 years.
Discussion: Our study has identified an international age disparity in fundamental diagnostic testing for older patients with stroke of unknown etiology. Some testing biases were affected by geographic location (e.g., brain MRI was less frequently used in European ESUS patients), whereas other testing was implemented less frequently in the elderly regardless of location (e.g., transesophageal echocardiogram).
Conclusion: Older patients in this international cohort had less sophisticated diagnostic testing for stroke, despite advanced age being well established as an independent risk factor for recurrent stroke. This was a global problem and further investigations are warranted to explore the cause.