Early Magnetic Resonance Imaging in Transient Ischemic Attack and Minor Stroke: Do it or Lose it

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Background and Purpose—

The use of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) after transient ischemic attack (TIA) or minor stroke may be affected by the relative timing of imaging. We measured the impact of scanning an individual patient late versus early after TIA and minor stroke.


Two hundred sixty-three TIA or minor stroke (National Institute of Health Stroke Scale score ≤3) patients with a baseline MRI completed within 24 hours of symptom onset and a follow-up MRI at 90 days were included. Baseline and 90-day scans were assessed independently for the presence of any stroke lesions that could explain the presenting symptoms. The presence and pattern of any stroke lesions were compared at the 2 time points.


The presence of a stroke (acute or chronic) in any location was more common on baseline MRI versus 90-day MRI (68% vs 56%; P=0.005). Thirty percent of subjects with negative scans at 90 days had a clearly identifiable stroke at baseline. When interpreted blinded to the baseline scan, the presumed relevant lesion on the 90-day MR scan was the correct lesion in only 53% patients. One-third (34%) of patients had a different lesion pattern on the baseline scan compared with the 90-day scan. Ninety percent (80/89) of these patients had more lesions on the baseline MRI and 10% (9/89) had new lesions on the 90-day MRI.


Delayed MRI after TIA or minor stroke reduces the diagnostic yield and results in missed understanding of the lesion pattern. MRI of minor stroke and TIA patients should occur early after symptom onset, and delayed imaging should be interpreted with caution.

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