Clinical features associated with medically unexplained stroke-like symptoms presenting to an acute stroke unit

Eur J Neurol. 2005 Feb;12(2):81-5. doi: 10.1111/j.1468-1331.2004.01010.x.


In many areas of secondary care, symptoms unexplained by disease account for around one-third of all patients seen. We sought to investigate patients presenting with medically unexplained stroke-like symptoms to identify distinguishing features which may help to identify a non-organic aetiology. Patients given a discharge diagnosis of medically unexplained stroke-like symptoms over the preceding 11 years were identified retrospectively from a prospectively completed stroke unit database. Age- and sex-matched controls with ischaemic or haemorrhagic stroke or transient ischaemic attack were also identified. Clinical features on presentation, ischaemic risk factors, alcohol history, marital status and history of depression or anxiety were examined. Previous or subsequent admissions with medically unexplained syndromes were also examined via record linkage with hospital discharge records. A medically unexplained syndrome was assumed to be present if an International Classification of Diseases 9 discharge code for one or more of the thirteen conditions forming recognized functional syndromes was given. Logistic regression was applied to determine predictors of non-organicity. One hundred and five patients and controls, 1.6% of all stroke unit admissions were identified, 62% (65 patients) were females. Mean age was 50.3 +/- 14.9. Compared with age- and sex-matched controls patients with medically unexplained stroke-like symptoms were significantly more probable to have a headache at presentation (47% vs. 26%, P = 0.0004), have a diagnosis of one or more additional medically unexplained syndromes (24% vs. 11%, P = 0.007) but significantly less probable to present with symptoms of vertebrobasilar dysfunction (32% vs. 61%, P < 0.0001). A history of anxiety or depression, as recorded in the notes, was not found to be associated with a medically unexplained presentation. Medically unexplained stroke-like presentations are common (1.6% of all stroke presentations), they are most strongly predicted by the presence of other functional somatic syndromes, headache and the absence of symptoms of vertebrobasilar dysfunction.

MeSH terms

  • Female
  • Hospital Units / statistics & numerical data*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Prevalence
  • Risk Factors
  • Stroke / epidemiology*
  • Stroke / physiopathology*