Background: Very few population based cohort studies have focused on the long term recurrence of stroke.
Objective: To examine 10 year cumulative recurrence rates for stroke in a Japanese cohort according to pathological type and clinical subtype of brain infarction.
Methods: During a 32 year follow up of 1621 subjects ⩾40 years of age, 410 developed first ever stroke. These were followed up prospectively for 10 years after stroke onset.
Results: During follow up, 108 (26%) experienced recurrent stroke. The cumulative recurrence rates were 35.3% at five years and 51.3% at 10 years. The 10 year recurrence rates of subarachnoid haemorrhage (SAH), brain haemorrhage, and brain infarction were 70.0%, 55.6%, and 49.7%, respectively; the difference between SAH and brain infarction was significant (p = 0.004). Most recurrent episodes after SAH or brain haemorrhage happened within a year after the index stroke, whereas recurrence of brain infarction increased consistently throughout the observation period. Cardioembolic stroke had a higher recurrence rate (75.2%) than lacunar infarction (46.8%) (p = 0.049). The 10 year risk of stroke recurrence increased with age after lacunar or atherothrombotic brain infarction, but not after the other types or subtypes. After atherothrombotic brain infarction, cardioembolic stroke, or SAH, the type and subtype of most recurrent strokes were the same as for the index stroke, but recurrence after lacunar infarction or brain haemorrhage showed divergent patterns.
Conclusions: Japanese people have higher recurrence rates of stroke than other populations. Recurrence rate after a first brain infarct increases consistently through the next 10 years.
- cohort studies
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Japanese people have high rates of morbidity and mortality from stroke.1 Among stroke survivors, recurrence is common, resulting in cumulative disability and cognitive dysfunction.2 Consequently, precise information is needed on the long term rates and determinants of recurrence after first stroke, so that clinical trials can be designed and health care policies for primary and secondary stroke prevention can be established. Most studies on stroke recurrence, reported mainly from Western countries, have been based on stroke registries3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10,11 or on series of patients referred to hospitals.12,13 A truly representative assessment of stroke recurrence in a community would require a prospective cohort of a defined population and an exhaustive follow up system. The Framingham study is the only cohort based examination of both initial and recurrent stroke, but it refers to the recurrence of thrombotic brain infarction only.14 Stroke is divided into several pathological types. Among them, brain infarction is further classified into several clinical subtypes.15–17 Very few studies, however, have accurately defined types and subtypes while also evaluating the long term risk of stroke recurrence.3
Since 1961, we have been carrying out a prospective cohort study of cardiovascular disease in the town of Hisayama, Japan.18,19 The most outstanding features of this study are that the causes of death were verified by necropsy and that most of the stroke patients were examined morphologically at necropsy or, before death, by brain imaging techniques such as computed tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Our aim in this study was to estimate 10 year cumulative recurrence rates after first ever stroke in the community of Hisayama, using data stratified by sex, age, stroke type, and, in cases of brain infarction, the clinical subtype.
Subjects and follow up surveys
In 1961, we carried out a screening examination among Hisayama residents and established a cohort consisting of 1621 stroke-free subjects aged ⩾40 years (88.1% of the total population in this age range). These subjects were then followed up for 32 years, from 1 November 1961 to 31 October 1993. A detailed description of the study methods has been published previously.18,19 In brief, we collected information about new cardiovascular events through a daily monitoring system established by the study team, local practitioners, and the town government. When we suspected a patient was having a new neurological symptom or a new deterioration of an already existing symptom, one of the physicians participating in the study would carefully evaluate the subject and try to obtain information by further diagnostic examinations, including lumbar puncture, cerebral angiography, or recent brain CT or MRI. During the 32 year period, all but two subjects were followed up and 1063 subjects died. Of those who died, 861 (81.0%) underwent necropsy.
The study was conducted with the approval of the human ethics review committee of Kyushu University Graduate School of Medical Sciences.
First ever stroke
Stroke, defined as the sudden onset of a non-convulsive and focal neurological deficit persisting for over 24 hours, was classified into four pathological types: brain infarction, brain haemorrhage, subarachnoid haemorrhage, and undetermined. Brain infarction was further divided into four clinical subtypes: lacunar infarction, atherothrombotic brain infarction, cardioembolic stroke, and undetermined. These types and subtypes were defined on the basis of the Classification of Cerebrovascular Disease III proposed by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (USA).15 The subtypes of ischaemic stroke were classified by TOAST (trial of Org 10172 in acute stroke treatment)16 and by the Cerebral Embolism Task Force.17 A detailed method of classifying stroke has been published previously.19 The diagnosis and classification of stroke in our study were based on clinical history, neurological examination, all available clinical information (including brain CT or MRI), and necropsy findings.
During the 32 year follow up, we identified 410 first ever stroke events (200 men and 210 women, mean (SD) age, 73.9 (10.1) years), and divided them into 298 cases of brain infarction, 73 of brain haemorrhage, 35 of subarachnoid haemorrhage, and four undetermined. The cases of brain infarction by subtype consisted of 167 lacunar infarcts, 62 atherothrombotic brain infarcts, 56 cardioembolic strokes, and 13 undetermined.
The definition of recurrent stroke was the same as that of index stroke, but with an additional criterion: there had to be either a new focal neurological deficit or a new deterioration of a previous deficit that was not attributed to brain oedema, haemorrhagic transformation after ischaemia, intercurrent illness, or iatrogenesis. This definition included recurrence in the early stage after the preceding stroke or recurrence in the same vascular territory as the preceding stroke.
We followed up the 410 patients with index stroke from the time of stroke onset until death or 31 August 2003. Under those conditions, all patients completed the follow up period. In the 10 years after the index stroke, 108 patients developed recurrent stroke. Of these, 88 had one recurrent stroke, 13 had two, six had three, and one had four. However, the end point of this study for each subject was the first recurrence.
Brain imaging, including CT or MRI, was carried out in 153 (37%) of the 410 subjects with index stroke and in 43 (40%) of the 108 subjects with recurrent stroke. Necropsy findings were available in 332 (84%) of the 394 deceased stroke patients. As a result, morphological evaluation, including brain imaging or necropsy, was undertaken in 376 (92%) of the index stroke patients and 102 (94%) of the recurrent stroke patients until 31 August 2003.
Because we began collecting data on stroke subjects in 1961, imaging examinations of the brain and heart were non-existent in the early study period. However, we compensated for this disadvantage by carrying out necropsy examinations on the vast majority of deceased patients. We reviewed the brains to evaluate the site, size, and pathological features of the stroke. We also investigated the heart and major vessels in detail—including the aorta, carotids, vertebrobasilar arteries, and the circle of Willis—in order to identify atherothrombotic stenotic lesions and embolic sources. In cases where the necropsy was carried out a long time after stroke onset, it was important to distinguish brain haemorrhage from brain infarction with haemorrhagic transformation. The latter was usually the result of a cardioembolic mechanism. When an infarcted area was surrounded by deposition of haemosiderin—with either no or mild atherosclerosis of the responsible artery, and given the presence of the embolic source—we considered the stroke lesion to be a brain infarct with haemorrhagic transformation. An old lesion that looked like a slit was considered to indicate a brain haemorrhage, especially if found in the basal ganglia or thalamus.
To classify the subtypes of brain infarction, we considered important the size and location of the infarcted area, the presence of stenosis or occlusion of a responsible cerebral artery, and the embolic source, in addition to clinical information including the disease course. Where multiple asymptomatic infarctions were present, we considered an infarct to be the lesion responsible for the stroke when it was most closely in accord with the neurological findings and disease course in the acute period of the stroke. The criteria for diagnosing brain infarction subtypes were given in full detail in our previous report.19 When sufficient clinical and morphological information was obtained, a diagnosis of subtype was defined as “definite”; on the other hand, when either type of information was insufficient, the diagnostic level was defined as “probable.” Among 298 cases of brain infarction, 272 were definite and 26 probable. In this study, we present the data on the definite and probable cases together, as these combined data were almost identical to the data for definite cases only.
SAS software (version 6.12) was used for statistical analysis. The cumulative recurrence rates of stroke and the 95% confidence intervals (CI) were estimated by the Kaplan–Meier product limit method. The Cox proportional hazards model was used to test differences in recurrence rates as well as to estimate relative risks (RR) and 95% CIs of stroke recurrence.
Recurrence rates of stroke
Figure 1 shows the Kaplan–Meier estimates of cumulative recurrence rates of stroke for all subjects and for all subjects divided by sex. The recurrence rates (95% CI) at 1, 5, and 10 years were 12.8% (8.9% to 16.6%), 35.3% (29.0% to 41.5%), and 51.3% (43.8% to 58.9%), respectively, for all subjects. For men, these rates were 12.9% (7.3% to 18.5%), 38.1% (28.9% to 47.2%), and 55.6% (44.9% to 66.4%); for women the rates were 12.5% (7.3% to 17.6%), 32.3% (23.8% to 40.9%), and 47.1% (36.5% to 57.6%). The recurrence rates were slightly higher for men than for women, but the overall difference was not statistically significant (p = 0.15).
Figure 2, panel A, shows cumulative recurrence rates of stroke by type of index stroke. The recurrence rates at 1, 5, and 10 years were 10.0% (6.3% to 13.8%), 34.1% (27.3% to 40.9%), and 49.7% (41.4% to 57.9%) after brain infarction; 25.6% (9.0% to 42.2%), 34.9% (16.0% to 53.8%), and 55.6% (32.2% to 79.1%) after brain haemorrhage; and 32.5% (10.3% to 54.6%), 55.0% (25.6% to 84.4%), and 70.0% (39.0% to 100%) after subarachnoid haemorrhage, respectively. The 10 year recurrence rate of subarachnoid haemorrhage was significantly higher than that of brain infarction (RR = 2.89 (95% CI, 1.40 to 5.97); p = 0.004). Also, brain haemorrhage recurred at a slightly higher rate than brain infarction, but the difference was not statistically significant (p = 0.52). Annual recurrence rates after brain infarction were about 10% per year in the first two years and consistently about 4% per year afterward. On the other hand, 58.3% of recurrent episodes took place within a year after brain haemorrhage, and 66.7% within three months after subarachnoid haemorrhage.
Figure 2, panel B, shows the cumulative recurrence rates of stroke by clinical subtype of brain infarction. The recurrence rates at 1, 5, and 10 years were 7.2% (3.1% to 11.2%), 30.4% (22.1% to 38.7%), and 46.8% (36.6% to 56.9%) after lacunar infarction; 14.8% (4.5% to 25.0%), 42.0% (25.5% to 58.5%), and 46.9% (29.2% to 64.5%) after atherothrombotic brain infarction; and 19.6% (6.3% to 32.8%), 42.2% (23.8% to 60.6%), and 75.2% (52.6% to 97.8%) after cardioembolic stroke, respectively. Cardioembolic stroke had a significantly higher risk of 10 year recurrence than lacunar infarction (RR = 1.76 (95% CI, 1.00 to 3.11); p = 0.049). The recurrence rate of atherothrombotic brain infarction was slightly higher than that of lacunar infarction, but the difference was not statistically significant (p = 0.59).
Figure 3 shows the cumulative recurrence rates of stroke by age. The 10 year risk of stroke recurrence was lowest in the youngest age group (40 to 59 years) and increased with age. Table 1 shows the relative risks of stroke recurrence among age groups during 10 years for each type and subtype of index stroke. The 10 year risk of stroke recurrence after brain infarction was lowest in the youngest age group and increased with age. For brain haemorrhage or subarachnoid haemorrhage, on the other hand, there was no significant relation between age and recurrence rates. Among the subtypes of brain infarction, the 10 year risk of recurrence after lacunar and atherothrombotic brain infarction was lowest in the youngest age group and increased with age, whereas for cardioembolic stroke there was no significant relation between age and recurrence rates.
Patterns of stroke recurrence
To evaluate patterns of stroke recurrence, table 2 shows the numbers and frequencies of first recurrent stroke by pathological types and clinical subtypes according to the type of index stroke. Most recurrent strokes after atherothrombotic brain infarction, cardioembolic stroke, or subarachnoid haemorrhage were the same type or subtype as the index stroke. On the other hand, recurrence after lacunar infarction or brain haemorrhage showed divergent patterns. The 51 patients who had recurrent stroke after lacunar infarction were divided as follows: 18 cases (35%) had a second lacunar infarction, 16 (31%) had atherothrombotic brain infarction, nine (18%) had brain haemorrhage, and six (12%) had cardioembolic stroke. Among the 12 recurrent cases of brain haemorrhage, seven (58%) had a second brain haemorrhage, three (25%) had lacunar infarction, and two (17%) had atherothrombotic or cardioembolic infarction.
One of the strengths of our study is that we investigated almost all stroke events occurring in a community based prospective cohort. Our study design eliminated the selection bias encountered in stroke registries or in series of hospital inpatients. Another strength is that recurrence rates were estimated up to 10 years after a subject’s first ever stroke.
Recurrence rates of stroke
Three previous reports from stroke registries in Australia3 and Britain4,5 have reported five year cumulative stroke recurrence rates of 16.6% to 29.5%. In comparison, our study’s five year cumulative stroke recurrence rate was 35.3%. There might be several reasons for this difference. First, there was a difference in methodology. The studies of the other three stroke registries all used a single set of criteria, which excluded vascular events occurring in the first 21 days after the index stroke unless such an event was clearly in a different vascular territory.3–5 On the other hand, our study excluded neither early recurrence (10 cases within 21 days) nor recurrence in the same vascular territory. Second, race might greatly influence stroke recurrence. In our study, haemorrhagic stroke—including brain haemorrhage and subarachnoid haemorrhage—recurred at higher rates than brain infarction, and the proportion of haemorrhagic stroke (26%) among all types was higher than those found in the three registries in Western countries (14% to 19%).3–5 In addition, as Asians, including Japanese, have a higher stroke incidence than Europids,1 they might also have higher rates of stroke recurrence.
In our study, most recurrent episodes occurred within a year after the index haemorrhagic stroke. This may indicate the importance of controlling risk factors and of treating the patient to prevent recurrence without delay in the first days and months after the onset of haemorrhagic stroke. On the other hand, cumulative recurrence rates after brain infarction, especially lacunar infarction, increased steadily during our 10 year study period. The Oxfordshire Community Stroke Project6 also showed that the recurrence rate after lacunar infarction was low and almost constant throughout the follow up period. Arteriosclerosis, which is thought to progress consistently for a long period, may be related to recurrent thrombotic infarction. Thus careful observation and adequate treatment to prevent recurrence are needed for a long time after brain infarction.
Several studies have focused on the relations between brain infarction subtypes and the risks of recurrent stroke,3,7,8,9,10,12 but their findings are equivocal. Some of those studies have claimed that the subtype of brain infarction is not a predictor of long term recurrence,3,7,8 while others showed that the highest risk of recurrence is with atherothrombotic brain infarction.9,10,12 In our study, cardioembolic stroke had the highest risk of recurrence among the three major subtypes of brain infarction. This is probably attributable to our inclusion of early recurrent episodes, which were often observed after cardioembolic stroke.20,21
In some studies,3,11 aging was found to be a predictor of stroke recurrence. In the present study, the risk of recurrence after first ever lacunar or atherothrombotic brain infarction was lowest in the youngest age group and then increased with age. Aging would accelerate atherosclerotic changes in major cerebral arteries and arteriolosclerotic changes in penetrating arteries, thus increasing the risk of recurrent stroke.
Patterns of stroke recurrence
In the present study, the types or subtypes of most recurrent strokes after atherothrombotic brain infarction, cardioembolic stroke, or subarachnoid haemorrhage were the same as those of the index stroke. On the other hand, recurrence after lacunar infarction or brain haemorrhage showed divergent patterns. This finding was also emphasised in some previous reports.4,13
Several aetiological mechanisms for lacunar infarction have been proposed22–24: lipohyalinosis or microatheroma in a penetrating artery; branch-atheromatous disease, which is located in basilar or middle cerebral arteries and occludes the origins of one or more penetrating arteries; and microembolism from carotid or cardiac disease. These multifactorial aetiologies would support divergence in the type and subtype of recurrent stroke after lacunar infarction. Our findings denote the importance of evaluation to detect any large vessel disease or embolic source, even in patients with lacunar infarction.
Hypertension is a major risk factor for both lacunar infarction and brain haemorrhage, and lesions of all lacunar infarcts and most brain haemorrhages in our patients were located in brain areas that have the common feature of penetrating arteries, such as the basal ganglia, thalamus, and pons. These similarities would support the overlap between lacunar infarction and brain haemorrhage in recurrent stroke types.
There are several potential limitations to the findings in our study. First, we enrolled stroke cases that developed among an inception cohort during 32 years of follow up. The prevalence of cardiovascular risk factors and the risk of stroke recurrence may have changed widely during this long term observation period.25 Secular trends in stroke recurrence should be examined, and we will do so in another study. Second, the study did not consider the effects of cardiovascular risk factors or those of medical or surgical treatment. Thus our estimates for the risk of stroke recurrence are probably quite conservative. Third, brain imaging was available in only 37% of the index stroke cases. However, we collected available clinical information on both index and recurrent strokes in minute detail and carried out necropsies on 84% of deceased stroke patients. We believe that our exhaustive and careful evaluation of the clinical information, as well as the high rate of necropsy, improved the quality and validity of the diagnosis as well as the stroke classification in our study.
Our findings show higher recurrence rates of stroke in a Japanese community than in Western populations. The divergent patterns of stroke recurrence after index lacunar infarction or brain haemorrhage are of interest and importance for the prevention of recurrent stroke, because the Japanese are characterised by high morbidity of lacunar infarction and brain haemorrhage. The consistent increase in cumulative recurrence rates during the long observation period and the higher recurrence rates after index brain infarction among older patients are both important for medical care. We believe that these findings will contribute to a better understanding of stroke recurrence in the Japanese, who are considered to be at greater risk of stroke than other populations.
Competing interests: none declared
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