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Patent foramen ovale in patients with ischaemic stroke of unknown cause: to close? "pro closure" position
Title of the conference
15th Congress of the European Federation of Neurological Societies (EFNS)
Budapest, Hungary, September 10-13, 2011
European Journal of Neurology
There is ample epidemiological and anecdotal evidence that a PFO increases the risk of stroke both in young and elderly patients, although only in a modest way: PFOs are more prevalent in patients with cryptogenic (unexplained) stroke than in healthy subjects, and are more prevalent in cryptogenic stroke than in strokes of other causes. Furthermore, multiple case series confirm an association of paradoxical embolism across a PFO in patients with deep vein thrombosis and/or pulmonary emboli.2. Is stroke recurrence risk in PFO-patients really not elevated when compared to PFO-free patients, as suggested by traditional observational studies? This finding is an epidemiological artifact called "the paradox of recurrence risk research" (Dahabreh & Kent, JAMA 2011) and is due to one (minor) risk factor, such as PFO, being wiped out by other, stronger risk factors in the control population.3. Having identified PFO as a risk factor for a first stroke and probably also for recurrences, we have to treat it, because treating risk factors always has paid off. No one would nowadays question the aggressive treatment of other risk factors of stroke such as hypertension, atrial fibrillation, smoking, or hyperlipidemia.4. In order to be effective, the preventive treatment has to control the risk factor (i.e. close effectively the PFO), and has to have little or no side effects. Both these conditions are now fulfilled thanks to increasing expertise of cardiologists with technically advanced closure devices and solid back up by multidisciplinary stroke teams.5. Closing a PFO does not dispense us from treating other stroke risk factors aggressively, given that these are cumulative with PFO.6. The most frequent reason why patients have a stroke recurrence after PFO closure is not that closure is ineffective, but that the initial stroke etiology is insufficiently investigated and not PFO related, and that the recurrence is due to another mechanism because of poor risk factor control.7. Similarly, the randomized CLOSURE study was negative because a) patients were included who had a low chance that their initial event was due to the PFO, b) patients were selected with a low chance that a PFO-related recurrence would occur, c) there was an unacceptable high rate of closure-related side effects, and d) the number of randomized patients was too small for a prevention trial.8. It is only a question of time until a sufficiently large randomized clinical trial with true PFO-related stroke patients and a high PFO-related recurrence risk will be performed and show the effectiveness of this closure9. PFO being a rather modest risk factor for stroke does not mean we should prevent our patients from getting the best available prevention by the best physicians in the best stroke centers Therefore, a PFO-closure performed by an excellent cardiologist following the recommendation of an expert neurovascular specialist after a thorough workup in a leading stroke center is one of the most effective stroke prevention treatments available in 2011.
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