Context: Therapeutic trials generally have not distinguished outcomes of stroke according to cause.
Objective: To determine whether stroke and subsequent disability was of large-artery, lacunar, or cardioembolic origin in patients with different degrees of symptomatic and asymptomatic carotid stenosis.
Design: Observational study of prospective data collected from the North American Symptomatic Carotid Endarterectomy Trial between 1987 and 1997.
Setting and patients: A total of 2885 patients from 106 sites in the United States and abroad (median age, 67 years; 70% male) who had symptomatic internal carotid artery stenosis.
Main outcome measure: Risk of stroke from each of the 3 causes at 5 years by territory and degree of stenosis.
Results: During an average follow-up of 5 years, 749 patients had 1039 strokes, including 112 of cardioembolic, 211 of lacunar, 698 of large-artery, 17 of primary intracerebral hemorrhage, and 1 of subarachnoid hemorrhage origin. The 5-year risk of first stroke after entry into the trial in any territory was 2.6% of cardioembolic cause, 6.9% of lacunar cause, and 19.7% of large-artery cause. The proportion of cardioembolic strokes in the territory of the symptomatic artery was 12.0% and 6.9% in 60% to 69% and 70% to 99% arterial stenosis, respectively; large-artery strokes predominated (78.4%) at 70% to 99% arterial stenosis. With 70% to 99% arterial stenosis, the proportion of strokes of cardioembolic and lacunar origin was 43.5% and 21.6% in asymptomatic and symptomatic arteries, respectively. A total of 67.6% of cardioembolic, 16.7% of lacunar, and 33.0% of large-artery strokes in the territory of the asymptomatic artery were disabling or fatal.
Conclusions: Our data suggest that approximately 20% and 45% of strokes in the territory of symptomatic and asymptomatic carotid arteries with 70% to 99% stenosis, respectively, are unrelated to carotid stenosis. The cause of subsequent strokes in similar types of patients should be considered when making treatment decisions involving carotid endarterectomy for patients with asymptomatic carotid stenosis, since lacunar and cardioembolic strokes cannot be prevented by endarterectomy.