Lower NIH stroke scale scores are required to accurately predict a good prognosis in posterior circulation stroke

Cerebrovasc Dis. 2014;37(4):251-5. doi: 10.1159/000358869. Epub 2014 Mar 25.


Background: The NIH stroke scale (NIHSS) is an indispensable tool that aids in the determination of acute stroke prognosis and decision making. Patients with posterior circulation (PC) strokes often present with lower NIHSS scores, which may result in the withholding of thrombolytic treatment from these patients. However, whether these lower initial NIHSS scores predict better long-term prognoses is uncertain. We aimed to assess the utility of the NIHSS at presentation for predicting the functional outcome at 3 months in anterior circulation (AC) versus PC strokes.

Methods: This was a retrospective analysis of a large prospectively collected database of adults with acute ischemic stroke. Univariate and multivariate analyses were conducted to identify factors associated with outcome. Additional analyses were performed to determine the receiver operating characteristic (ROC) curves for NIHSS scores and outcomes in AC and PC infarctions. Both the optimal cutoffs for maximal diagnostic accuracy and the cutoffs to obtain >80% sensitivity for poor outcomes were determined in AC and PC strokes.

Results: The analysis included 1,197 patients with AC stroke and 372 with PC stroke. The median initial NIHSS score for patients with AC strokes was 7 and for PC strokes it was 2. The majority (71%) of PC stroke patients had baseline NIHSS scores ≤4, and 15% of these 'minor' stroke patients had a poor outcome at 3 months. ROC analysis identified that the optimal NIHSS cutoff for outcome prediction after infarction in the AC was 8 and for infarction in the PC it was 4. To achieve >80% sensitivity for detecting patients with a subsequent poor outcome, the NIHSS cutoff for infarctions in the AC was 4 and for infarctions in the PC it was 2.

Conclusion: The NIHSS cutoff that most accurately predicts outcomes is 4 points higher in AC compared to PC infarctions. There is potential for poor outcomes in patients with PC strokes and low NIHSS scores, suggesting that thrombolytic treatment should not be withheld from these patients based solely on the NIHSS. © 2014 S. Karger AG, Basel.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • National Institutes of Health (U.S.)
  • Predictive Value of Tests
  • Prognosis
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Severity of Illness Index*
  • Stroke / diagnosis*
  • Stroke / therapy
  • Treatment Outcome
  • United States