BACKGROUND: The utility of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) brain in patients with transient or minor neurological symptoms is uncertain. We sought to determine the proportion of participants with transient or minor neurological symptoms who had MRI evidence of acute ischemia at different clinical probabilities of transient ischemic attack (TIA) or minor stroke. METHODS: Cohort of participants with transient or minor neurological symptoms from emergency and outpatient settings. Clinicians at different levels of training gave each participant a diagnostic probability (probable when TIA/stroke was the most likely differential diagnosis; possible when TIA/stroke was not the most likely differential diagnosis; or uncertain when diagnostic probability could not be given) before 1.5 or 3T brain MRI ≤5 days from onset. Post hoc, each clinical syndrome was defined blind to MRI findings as National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke criteria TIA/stroke; International Headache Society criteria migraine aura; non-TIA focal symptoms; or nonfocal symptoms. MRI evidence of acute ischemia was defined by 2 reads of MRI. Stroke was ascertained for at least 90 days and up to 18 months after recruitment. RESULTS: Two hundred seventy-two participated (47% female, mean age 60, SD 14), 58% with MRI ≤2 days of onset. Most (92%) reported focal symptoms. MR evidence of acute ischemia was found, for stroke/TIA clinical probabilities of probable 23 out of 75 (31% [95% CI, 21%-42%]); possible 26 out of 151 (17% [12%-24%]); and uncertain 9 out of 43, (20% [10%-36%]). MRI evidence of acute ischemia was found in National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke criteria TIA/stroke 40 out of 95 (42% [32%-53%]); migraine aura 4 out of 38 (11% [3%-25%]); non-TIA focal symptoms 16 out of 99 (16% [10%-25%]); and no focal features 1 out of 29 (3% [0%-18%]). After MRI, a further 14 (5% [95% CI, 3-8]) would be treated with an antiplatelet drug compared with treatment plan before MRI. By 18 months, a new ischemic stroke occurred in 9 out of 61 (18%) patients with MRI evidence of acute ischemia and 2 out of 211 (1%) without (age-adjusted hazard ratio, 13 [95% CI, 3-62]; P<0.0001). CONCLUSIONS: MRI evidence of acute brain ischemia was found in about 1 in 6 transient or minor neurological symptoms patients with a nonstroke/TIA initial diagnosis or uncertain diagnosis. Methods to determine the clinical and cost-effectiveness of MRI are needed in this population.
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diagnosis, differential, ischemia, magnetic resonance imaging, tomography, transient ischemic attack