New AHA/ASA guideline on secondary stroke prevention


When possible, diagnostic tests to determine the cause of a first stroke or transient ischemic attack (TIA) should be completed within 48 hours after symptom onset, the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association said in an updated clinical practice guideline.

Dr. Dawn O. Kleindorfer of the neurology department of the University of Michigan

Dr. Dawn O. Kleindorfer

“It is critically important to understand the best ways to prevent another stroke once someone has had a stroke or a TIA,” Dawn O. Kleindorfer, MD, chair of the guideline writing group, said in a news release.

“If we can pinpoint the cause of the first stroke or TIA, we can tailor strategies to prevent a second stroke,” said Dr. Kleindorfer, professor and chair, department of neurology, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.

The updated guideline was published online May 24, 2021, in Stroke.

“The secondary prevention of stroke guideline is one of the ASA’s ‘flagship’ guidelines, last updated in 2014,” Dr. Kleindorfer said.

The update includes “a number of changes to the writing and formatting of this guideline to make it easier for professionals to understand and locate information more quickly, ultimately greatly improving patient care and preventing more strokes in our patients,” she noted.

Let pathogenic subtype guide prevention

For patients who have survived a stroke or TIA, management of vascular risk factors, particularly hypertension, diabetes, cholesterol/triglyceride levels, and smoking cessation, are key secondary prevention tactics, the guideline said.

Limiting salt intake and/or following a heart-healthy Mediterranean diet is also advised, as is engaging in at least moderate-intensity aerobic activity for at least 10 minutes four times a week or vigorous-intensity aerobic activity for at least 20 minutes twice a week.

“Approximately 80% of strokes can be prevented by controlling blood pressure, eating a healthy diet, engaging in regular physical activity, not smoking and maintaining a healthy weight,” Amytis Towfighi, MD, vice chair of the guideline writing group and director of neurologic services, Los Angeles County Department of Health Services, noted in the release.

For health care professionals, the guideline said specific recommendations for secondary prevention often depend on the ischemic stroke/TIA subtype. “Therefore, new in this guideline is a section describing recommendations for the diagnostic workup after ischemic stroke, to define ischemic stroke pathogenesis (when possible), and to identify targets for treatment to reduce the risk of recurrent ischemic stroke. Recommendations are now segregated by pathogenetic subtype,” the guideline stated.

Among the recommendations:

  • Use multidisciplinary care teams to personalize care for patients and employ shared decision-making with the patient to develop care plans that incorporate a patient’s wishes, goals, and concerns.
  • Screen for and initiate anticoagulant drug therapy to reduce recurrent events.
  • Prescribe antithrombotic therapy, including antiplatelets or anticoagulants, in the absence of contraindications. The guideline noted that the combination of antiplatelets and anticoagulation is typically not recommended for preventing second strokes and that dual antiplatelet therapy (DAPT) – taking along with a second medication to prevent blood clotting – is recommended in the short term and only for specific patients: those with early arriving minor stroke and high-risk TIA or severe symptomatic stenosis.
  • Consider or carotid artery stenting for select patients with narrowing of carotid arteries.
  • Aggressive medical management of risk factors and short-term DAPT are preferred for patients with severe intracranial stenosis thought to be the cause of first stroke or TIA.
  • In some patients, it’s reasonable to consider percutaneous closure of .

The guideline is accompanied by a systematic review and meta-analysis regarding the benefits and risks of dual antiplatelet versus single antiplatelet therapy for secondary stroke prevention. The authors conclude that DAPT may be appropriate for select patients.

“Additional research is needed to determine: the optimal timing of starting treatment relative to the clinical event; the optimal duration of DAPT to maximize the risk-benefit ratio; whether additional populations excluded from POINT and CHANCE [two of the trials examined], such as those with major stroke, may also benefit from early DAPT; and whether certain genetic profiles eliminate the benefit of early DAPT,” concluded the reviewers, led by Devin Brown, MD, University of Michigan.

The guideline was prepared on behalf of and approved by the AHA Stroke Council’s Scientific Statements Oversight Committee on Clinical Practice Guidelines. The writing group included representatives from the AHA/ASA and the American Academy of Neurology. The guideline has been endorsed by the American Association of Neurological Surgeons/Congress of Neurological Surgeons and the Society of Vascular and Interventional Neurology. It has also been affirmed by the AAN as an educational tool for neurologists.

The research had no commercial funding.

A version of this article first appeared on

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