Preventive health care, 1999 update: 2. Echocardiography for the detection of a cardiac source of embolus in patients with stroke. Canadian Task Force on Preventive Health Care.
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OBJECTIVE: To develop guidelines for the use of echocardiography in the investigation of patients with stroke. OPTIONS: (1) Routine transthoracic echocardiography (TTE); (2) routine transesophageal echocardiography (TEE); (3) routine TTE followed by TEE if the TTE findings are noncontributory; (4) selective TTE or TEE in patients with cardiac disease who would not otherwise receive anticoagulant therapy. OUTCOMES: This article reviews the available evidence on the yield of TTE and TEE in detecting cardiac sources of cerebral emboli in patients with stroke, the effectiveness of treatment for cardiac sources of emboli and the effectiveness of screening echocardiography for secondary stroke prevention. EVIDENCE: MEDLINE was searched for relevant articles published from January 1966 to April 1998; also reviewed were additional articles identified from the bibliographies and citations obtained from experts. BENEFITS, HARMS AND COSTS: Echocardiography can detect intracardiac masses (thrombus, vegetation or tumour) in about 4% (with TTE) to 11% (with TEE) of stroke patients. The yield is lower among patients without clinical evidence of cardiac disease by history, physical examination, electrocardiography or chest radiography (less than 2%) than among patients with clinical evidence of cardiac disease (less than 19%). The risks of echocardiography to patients are small. TTE has virtually no risks, and TEE is associated with cardiac, pulmonary and bleeding complications in 0.18%. Patients with an identified intracardiac thrombus are at increased risk for embolic events (absolute risk uncertain, range 0%-38%), and this appears to be reduced with anticoagulant therapy (absolute risk reduction uncertain). Anticoagulant therapy carries a risk of major hemorrhage of 1% to 3% per year. The overall effectiveness of echocardiography in the prevention of recurrent stroke is unknown. VALUES: The strength of evidence was evaluated using the methods of the Canadian Task Force on Preventive Health Care. RECOMMENDATIONS: There is fair evidence to recommend echocardiography in patients with stroke and clinical evidence of cardiac disease by history, physical examination, electrocardiography or chest radiography (grade B recommendation). There is insufficient evidence to recommend for or against TEE in patients with normal results of TTE (grade C recommendation). There is insufficient evidence to recommend for or against routine echocardiography in patients (including young patients) without clinical cardiac disease (grade C recommendation). Routine echocardiography is not recommended for patients with clinical cardiac disease who have independent indications for or contraindications to anticoagulant therapy (grade D recommendation). There is fair evidence to recommend anticoagulant therapy in patients with stroke and intracardiac thrombus (grade B recommendation). There is insufficient (no) evidence to recommend for or against any specific therapy for patent foramen ovale (grade C recommendation). VALIDATION: The findings of this analysis were reviewed through an iterative process by the members of the Canadian Task Force on Preventive Health Care.
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