We are, in principle, fans of endovascular therapy for acute stroke as presented in the major trials: ESCAPE, EXTEND-IA, and SWIFT-PRIME. These trials carefully selected eligible patients by use of advanced perfusion imaging and demonstrated high rates of revascularization. Viable brain plus restored flow has face validity for improved outcomes.
However, these sponsored authors use the meta-analysis for its most nefarious purpose: to obfuscate the important subtleties and eligibility criteria of its included trials. These authors pool the aforementioned trials, along with MR CLEAN and REVASCAT to provide the following conclusion:
“Endovascular thrombectomy is of benefit to most patients with acute ischaemic stroke caused by occlusion of the proximal anterior circulation, irrespective of patient characteristics or geographical location.”(emphasis mine)The authors also provide a staggering number-needed-to-treat for endovascular therapy of 2.6.
But, of course, this was written to shock and awe the lay press and general medicine community, rather than edify the astute clinician. Their NNT is not based on the typical dichotomous cut-off used in stroke trials of mRS 0-1 or 0-2 – but rather the hopelessly flawed ordinal shift analysis. As the decades turn, apparently, we have forgotten why this approach was frowned upon from the start: it is not appropriate to equate the outcome value difference between mRS 5 and 4 with the difference between mRS 3 and 2, and the limitations in inter-rater reliability in the mRS introduce a vast additional amount of measurement error. Then, by burying any mention of the strict imaging criteria responsible for the bulk of benefit seen in these trials, they mislead the reader into considering this therapy appropriate for all-comers.
Is there any value to these data as presented? A little. There is hypothesis generating evidence that tPA prior to endovascular therapy provides no additive benefit. There is also evidence that increasingly distal sites of occlusion may not benefit from intervention.
Unfortunately, the flaws in this article outweigh the few potentially usable insights. This is just yet another piece of direct-to-physician marketing masquerading as scientific evidence.
“Endovascular thrombectomy after large-vessel ischaemic stroke: a meta-analysis of individual patient data from five randomised trials”