Friday, December 26, 2014

A Patient's Guide to Cerebral Angiography

What is 'Cerebral Angiography' or a 'Brain Cath'?

It is a procedure which uses a dye (contrast material) and X-rays to visualize the arteries and veins in the neck and brain.

When is it performed?

This test is generally recommended by the doctor to evaluate patients with stroke, brain bleed, aneurysms,vascular malformations and brain tumors.

Who performs the procedure?

A specialist trained in neurointerventions can perform angiography. The specialist may be a neurosurgeon, neuro-radiologist or a neurologist.

How do I prepare for an angiogram?

Before scheduling the procedure, your doctor will check your kidney function and order other blood tests. Please inform your doctor about

  1. Your allergies (specifically allergy to shellfish and iodine)
  2. History of bleeding gums or easy bruising in the past
  3. Your medications (specifically Metformin for diabetes mellitus)
  4. Whether you are pregnant
  5. You may be asked to not eat and drink anything for about 8-12 hours prior to the procedure

How is the procedure performed?

  1. You will be asked to lie on a X-ray table.
  2. Your head may be strapped using a tape to keep it still.
  3. You may be given intravenous medications for pain and to put you to light sleep.
  4. A numbing medication (local anesthesia) is given around the artery in the groin (femoral artery). You may have a transient stinging or burning sensation when the medication is injected in the groin.
  5. A long catheter (a catheter is a long slender tube) is inserted through the artery in the groin and passed all the way up to the neck with the help of X-rays
  6. Contrast dye is injected into the various arteries in the neck that carry blood to the brain and X-ray pictures taken to visualize the arteries and the veins and the blood flow pattern.
  7. A diagnostic angiogram usually lasts about 30-45 minutes depending upon the specific arteries and veins that are being examined.
  8. While the dye is being injected, you may feel a warm flushing sensation. You may also experience a metallic taste in the mouth for a few minutes.
  9. After the angiogram, the doctor removes the tube from the groin and holds pressure over the artery in the groin to allow blood to clot and seal the hole in the artery.
  10. Alternatively, your doctor may use a closure device to seal the hole in the artery.
How long do I have to stay in the hospital after the procedure?

A diagnostic cerebral angiogram is usually performed as an outpatient procedure. You will have to lay flat in the bed for about 3-6 hours after which you may be discharged home.

What precautions should I take after going home?

  1. It is recommended not to drive or do any strenuous work for 1-2 days after the procedure. 
  2. Do not exercise. 
  3. You may walk around in the house. 
  4. You may have some soreness in the groin for a couple of days. 
  5. You may resume normal daily activity from the next day or the day after. 
  6. You may take over-the-counter pain medications, if needed. 
  7. If you are diabetic and take Metformin, do not take the medication for 24-48 hours following the procedure.
  8. Immediately call the doctor's office if you experience
    • severe itching all over the body
    • rash over the groin or anywhere in the body
    • swelling in the groin
    • bleeding from the groin
    • slurred speech
    • weakness of an arm or leg
What are the risks of Cerebral Angiography?

  1. There is a small risk of allergy to the contrast dye. If you have a history of allergy to the dye, your doctor may ask you to take some medications prior to the procedure to prevent any allergic reaction
  2. There is a small risk of bleeding from the puncture site in the groin (1%-2%). Alternatively the bleeding may be under the skin forming a 'pseudo-aneurysm'. A swelling may be seen in the puncture site in the groin.
  3. In about 0.5%-1% of the patients, a clot from within the catheter or a cholesterol plaque from one of the arteries in the neck may be dislodged and block an artery supplying the brain leading to stroke. With the advent of newer techniques, the incidence of a major or significant stroke following diagnostic angiography in experienced hands is very low.

    Friday, December 19, 2014

    From 'FAST' to 'FASTER'. The MR CLEAN Stroke trial: What does it mean to us?

    The recently published MR CLEAN trial for interventional management of stroke is a major step towards management of acute ischemic stroke. The trial was conducted in Netherlands and compared medical management with medical management and interventional therapy. At the end of three months, a significantly greater proportion of patients in the interventional therapy group had good outcome than those in the medical treatment group (32.6% Vs 19.1%). Good functional outcome was 67% more likely in the interventional group.

    This trial included patients with large artery strokes. Patients with large artery strokes have a clot occluding one of the major arteries that supply the brain such as the internal carotid artery or the middle cerebral artery. Such patients have a very high risk of disability and death. The currently approved treatment of such patients is tPA, a drug that is given intravenously and acts on the clot to dissolve it. However, tPA is able to dissolve only one-fifth of the clots. With the use of stentrievers, about 58% of the clots were removed leading to restoration of blood flow within the artery. A 'Stentriever' is a stent, a small wire cage, that is inserted from the groin through a catheter. When it reaches the clot in the brain, it expands and holds the clot. The stent is then pulled along with the clot.

    With one person dying of stroke every 36 seconds in India, it is very essential to organize such stroke centers where appropriate treatment of acute stroke is undertaken in a protocol based manner. For, the general practitioners and neurologists, it is very important to collaborate with a stroke center with 24 x 7 availability of stroke neurologists, neurosurgeons and interventionists. Timely referral and treatment of acute stroke within 8 hours of onset of symptoms can potentially reverse the symptoms and prevent long term disability and death. The new phrase to identify and treat acute stroke is FASTER.

    F - Face -Asymmetry of face
    A - Arm - Arm weakness
    S - Speech - Speech disturbance
    T - Time - refer the patient to a stroke center immediately
    E - Emergency - Treat stroke as an emergency
    R - Restore - Restore blood flow in the vessel when appropriate

    Wednesday, December 17, 2014

    Breaking news! Proof of benefit of intra-arterial Stroke treatment!

    In patients with acute ischemic stroke caused by proximal intracranial occlusion of the anterior circulation, intra-arterial treatment administered within 6 hours after stroke onset waseffective and safe.

    Friday, December 12, 2014

    Brain Aneurysms: What you should know

    What is a Brain Aneurysm?

    A brain aneurysm is a focal bulging of the wall of an artery that supplies blood to the brain. While most brain aneurysms remain silent, a few burst leading to bleed within the brain. The bleed may be so devastating that almost half of the people die and do not reach the hospital. Since most of the aneurysms rupture in the fourth through sixth decades of life, significant part of productive life is lost due to long term disability and death. Hence it is important for the people to know about the symptoms of brain aneurysms and possible treatment options. It is also important for general practitioners to be aware so that they can refer their patients to treatment centers that are capable of managing brain aneurysms.

    What causes Brain aneurysms?

    In most of the people, aneurysms are acquired. This means, that most people with brain aneurysms are not born with these and during their life time, the aneurysms form. High blood pressure, smoking, excessive alcohol intake are some of the risk factors that predispose an individual to aneurysm formation. Women are more likely to develop aneurysms than men and African-Americans and Finnish are more likely to have an aneurysmal rupture than people belonging to other races. An individual with a strong family history (at least 2 close relatives with brain aneurysms) also is a risk factor.

    Rare hereditary conditions such as polycystic kidney disease are associated with brain aneurysms.

    What are the symptoms?

    Most aneurysms do not cause any symptoms. They are discovered incidentally during MRI or CT imaging for an unrelated cause. However, aneurysms can cause symptoms when they burst or occasionally, when they become big in size and press upon the surrounding brain structures. The most common symptoms of aneurysm rupture are

    • sudden severe headache
    • neck pain
    • nausea and vomiting
    • loss of consciousness
    • intolerance to light
    • seizures (fits)
    Other symptoms may include blurred vision, double vision and changes in speech

    How are aneurysms diagnosed?

    There are several tests that the doctor may do to diagnose brain aneurysm rupture. CT scan, MRI, lumbar puncture (in which a needle is inserted in the spinal canal in the back and spinal fluid is drawn to look for blood products) and cerebral angiography. A cerebral angiogram is a test where a catheter is inserted through an artery in the groin and advanced all the way up to the neck. Dye is injected through the catheter and X-ray pictures taken.

    How are aneurysms treated?

    There are two ways in which aneurysms are treated. First, "Clipping", in which the aneurysm is closed from outside with a metal clip through open surgery. Second, "Coiling" in which thin metal threads called 'coils' are inserted in the aneurysm using a catheter in the same way as an angiogram is done. Both these treatment options are complimentary to one another and, depending upon the characteristics, the aneurysm may be suitable for clipping or coiling. If the aneurysm is very small and not ruptured, your neurosurgeon may also recommend observation depending upon the risk of rupture.


    Friday, December 5, 2014

    'Brain Attack' and 'Heart Attack': How are they different?

    It is a common notion among people that 'brain attack' or 'stroke' and 'heart attack' are one and the same. There is also a profound lack of knowledge of common risk factors and symptoms of stroke. Inability of bystanders to recognize the common symptoms of stroke is a major hurdle in appropriate management of patients with stroke as golden hour is lost, specially in India where the pre-hospital services are not well organized. Treatment within the first 8 hours of onset of symptoms is most effective and prevents long term morbidity and mortality. It is estimated that one person dies of stroke every 36 seconds in India. In a study conducted among the rural population in Maharashtra in 2012, only 51% of the 373 respondents were able to correctly identify 'stroke' as a disorder of the brain, while 19% associated it with heart attack! Also, one third of the respondents (34%) did not know at least one risk factor for stroke. This phenomenon is seen in both developing and developed countries, although the proportions are lower in developed countries.

    What are the similarities and differences between 'stroke' and 'heart attack'?

    Heart attack refers to damage to the muscle of the heart, usually from a lack of blood flow. Most of the time, a blood clot forms in one of the arteries that supplies the heart muscle with blood, blocking the flow of blood. As the heart muscle starves, it begins to die, causing chest pain and other symptoms of heart attack.
    A Stroke is a similar blockage in an artery in the brain or neck that supplies blood to the brain. When a clot forms in one of those arteries and stops blood flow, a section of the brain begins to die. When those cells die, the person loses whatever function those brain cells controlled. There is another category called the 'hemorrhagic stroke' in which a blood vessel bursts and bleeds in the brain.

    While the common symptoms of a heart attack are chest pain, tightness and shoulder pain, the symptoms of stroke are completely different and may range from nothing to headache, paralysis of an arm or leg, unconsciousness, coma and death. Another type of stroke is a transient ischemic attack (TIA), essentially a “mini-stroke” caused by a temporary clot. TIA symptoms are identical to those of other kinds of strokes, but because they occur quickly and usually last less than five minutes, this brain attack often goes unnoticed.
    While a TIA doesn’t usually cause permanent injury to the brain, it serves as a warning for patients and gives them time to seek further medical treatment in preventing ischemic or hemorrhagic strokes.

    Because specific areas of the brain control certain functions, one can predict the effects of a stroke based on the location of the blockage. If the blockage occurs near the front of the brain, it can affect such things as organization skills, memory, communication, and problem solving. If it occurs lower down, near the brainstem, it can cause unconsciousness and an inability to breathe, swallow, or control elimination.if it occurs to one side near the temple, speech may be affected. In addition, which side (hemisphere) of the brain the stroke occurs on determines its side effects and which body functions are affected. The right side generally controls a person's emotions, creativity and abstract thinking. If the blockage occurs anywhere on the right side of the brain, it can cause the following symptoms:
    • Paralysis or weakness on the left side of the body
    • Disorientation
    • Excessive talking
    • An inability to perform routine tasks such as brushing the teeth, buttoning a shirt or tying shoelace
    The left side controls more of speech, logic, perception and organization. If the stroke occurs anywhere on the left side of the brain, it can cause the following symptoms:
    • Paralysis or weakness on the right side of the body
    • Depression
    • An inability to understand language
    • Trouble speaking
    • Memory problems
    • Decreased attention span
     Heart attack and Stroke have many risk factors in common. They may be modifiable or non-modifiable. Some of the modifiable risk factors include
    •  High Blood Pressure
    • Heart Disease
    • Diabetes Mellitus
    • Cigarette smoking
    • History of transient Ischemic Attacks (TIAs)
    • High blood Cholesterol
    • Lack of exercise, physical inactivity
    • Obesity
    • Excessive alcohol use
    • Drug abuse 
     Some of the non-modifiable risk factors include
    •  Age > 55 years
    • Male gender
    • Race (Asians and African-Americans have a greater risk than Caucasians)
    • History of prior stroke
    • Family history of stroke