AHA issues guidance on stroke prevention in heart surgery patients

Mario Gaudino

Guidelines for reducing the risk of stroke in patients undergoing heart surgery have been detailed in an American Heart Association (AHA) scientific statement, “Considerations for Reduction of Risk of Perioperative Stroke for Adult Patients Undergoing Cardiac and Thoracic Aortic Operations,” published in the journal Circulation.

Pre-screening, surgical technique changes, early diagnosis while in surgery and quick team response all contribute to better survival rates and reduce the risks of major disability for patients, the statement suggests.

“Cardiac surgery has come a long way in recent decades, and improvements in pre-operative screening and treatment now really make a difference between a patient suffering a disabling stroke or surviving and thriving with a good quality of life,” said Mario Gaudino, chair of the writing group for the scientific statement, and a cardiac surgeon and professor of cardiothoracic surgery at New York-Presbyterian and Weill Cornell Medicine, New York, USA. ”This statement provides an overview of the latest surgical protocols and techniques that can reduce stroke risk after heart surgery and improve patient survival and outcomes.”

According to the AHA, stroke risk for common cardiac procedures varies depending on both patient risk factors and the procedure. The risk is about 1% for a valve repair or coronary artery bypass alone; 2-3% if those procedures are combined; and 3-9% for surgeries involving the aorta. Stroke risk is also higher for the 27% to 40% of patients who develop atrial fibrillation after heart surgery.

Typical pre-surgery screening for perioperative stroke risk includes an assessment of age, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, Type 2 diabetes, smoking, heart failure, renal disease, atrial fibrillation and prior history of stroke or transient ischemic attack. The scientific statement further suggests monitoring and actions to diagnose and treat a surgery-related stroke quickly. Highlights of the statement’s recommendations are:

  • Prevention during surgery
  • Monitor blood flow to the brain;
  • Intraoperative (during surgery) imaging of the aorta;
  • Tight blood pressure control; and
  • Closely monitor blood loss and the need for transfusion.
  • Early stroke diagnosis
  • Perform a complete neurologic exam as soon as possible after surgery;
  • If a patient is high-risk for perioperative stroke, consider a fast-track anesthesia protocol to help quickly identify signs of a stroke after surgery;
  • Have a stroke team in place to provide emergency treatment if a stroke is suspected; and
  • Conduct a head CT and CT angiography of head and neck as soon as stroke is suspected.
  • Rapid treatment of perioperative stroke
  • Transfer the patient to intensive care;
  • Optimise brain oxygenation and perfusion;
  • Consider clot busting or clot removal therapy; and
  • Evaluate patient’s speech and swallow function; evaluate for rehabilitation; screen for depression; and begin preventive therapy for deep vein thrombosis.

“It’s imperative that a stroke team work together to assess a patient’s health before, during and after heart surgery. In addition to the surgeons, this multidisciplinary team should include stroke neurologists, neuro-interventionalists, neurocritical care specialists and neuro-anesthesiologists,” added Gaudino. “Following these protocols can lead to quicker response times by medical teams in the event of an emergency and help to reduce the frequency of neurological injuries among patients.”

The scientific statement was prepared by the volunteer writing group on behalf of the AHA’s Clinical Council on Cardiovascular Surgery and Anesthesia; the Stroke Council; and the Council on Cardiovascular and Stroke Nursing.


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