Endovascular thrombectomy for large vessel ischaemic stroke substantially reduces disability, with recent positive randomised trials leading to guideline changes worldwide. This review discusses in detail the evidence provided by recent randomised trials and meta-analyses, the remaining areas of uncertainty and the future directions for research. The data from existing trials have demonstrated the robust benefit of endovascular thrombectomy for internal carotid and proximal middle cerebral artery occlusions. Uncertainty remains for more distal occlusions where the efficacy of alteplase is greater, less tissue is at risk and the safety of endovascular procedures is less established. Basilar artery occlusion was excluded from the trials, but with a dire natural history and proof of principle that rapid reperfusion is effective, it seems reasonable to continue treating these patients pending ongoing trial results. There has been no evidence of heterogeneity in treatment effect in clinically defined subgroups by age, indeed, those aged >80 years have at least as great an overall reduction in disability and reduced mortality. Similarly there was no heterogeneity across the range of baseline stroke severities included in the trials. Evidence that routine use of general anaesthesia reduces the benefit of endovascular thrombectomy is increasing and conscious sedation is generally preferred unless severe agitation or airway compromise is present. The impact of time delays has become clearer with description of onset to imaging and imaging to reperfusion epochs. Delays in the onset to imaging reduce the proportion of patients with salvageable brain tissue. However, in the presence of favourable imaging, rapid treatment appears beneficial regardless of the onset to imaging time elapsed. Imaging to reperfusion delays lead to decay in the clinical benefit achieved, particularly in those with less robust collateral flow. The brain imaging options to assess prognosis have various advantages and disadvantages, but whatever strategy is employed must be fast. Ongoing trials are investigating extended time windows, using advanced brain imaging selection. There is also a need for further technical advances to maximise rates of complete reperfusion in the minimum time.
Keywords: endovascular thrombectomy; intra-arterial clot retrieval; ischemic stroke; stent retriever.