Effect of pharmaceutical treatment on vasospasm, delayed cerebral ischemia, and clinical outcome in patients with aneurysmal subarachnoid hemorrhage: a systematic review and meta-analysis

J Cereb Blood Flow Metab. 2011 Jun;31(6):1443-51. doi: 10.1038/jcbfm.2011.7. Epub 2011 Feb 2.


As it is often assumed that delayed cerebral ischemia (DCI) after subarachnoid hemorrhage (SAH) is caused by vasospasm, clinical trials often focus on prevention of vasospasm with the aim to improve clinical outcome. However, the role of vasospasm in the pathogenesis of DCI and clinical outcome is possibly smaller than previously assumed. We performed a systematic review and meta-analysis on all randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trials that studied the effect of pharmaceutical preventive strategies on vasospasm, DCI, and clinical outcome in SAH patients to further investigate the relationship between vasospasm and clinical outcome. Effect sizes were expressed in pooled risk ratio (RR) estimates with corresponding 95% confidence intervals (CI). A total of 14 studies randomizing 4,235 patients were included. Despite a reduction of vasospasm (RR 0.80 (95% CI 0.70 to 0.92)), no statistically significant effect on poor outcome was observed (RR 0.93 (95% CI 0.85 to 1.03)). The variety of DCI definitions did not justify pooling the DCI data. We conclude that pharmaceutical treatments have significantly decreased the incidence of vasospasm, but not of poor clinical outcome. This dissociation between vasospasm and clinical outcome could result from methodological problems, sample size, insensitivity of clinical outcome measures, or from mechanisms other than vasospasm that also contribute to poor outcome.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Brain Ischemia / complications*
  • Brain Ischemia / prevention & control*
  • Humans
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Subarachnoid Hemorrhage / complications*
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Vasospasm, Intracranial / complications*
  • Vasospasm, Intracranial / prevention & control*