Long-term antithrombotic therapy and risk of intracranial haemorrhage from cerebral cavernous malformations: a population-based cohort study, systematic review, and meta-analysis

Lancet Neurol. 2019 Oct;18(10):935-941. doi: 10.1016/S1474-4422(19)30231-5. Epub 2019 Aug 7.


Background: Antithrombotic (anticoagulant or antiplatelet) therapy is withheld from some patients with cerebral cavernous malformations, because of uncertainty around the safety of these drugs in such patients. We aimed to establish whether antithrombotic therapy is associated with an increased risk of intracranial haemorrhage in adults with cerebral cavernous malformations.

Methods: In this population-based, cohort study, we used data from the Scottish Audit of Intracranial Vascular Malformations, which prospectively identified individuals aged 16 years and older living in Scotland who were first diagnosed with a cerebral cavernous malformation during 1999-2003 or 2006-10. We compared the association between use of antithrombotic therapy after first presentation and the occurrence of intracranial haemorrhage or persistent or progressive focal neurological deficit due to the cerebral cavernous malformations during up to 15 years of prospective follow-up with multivariable Cox proportional hazards regression assessed in all individuals identified in the database. We also did a systematic review and meta-analysis, in which we searched Ovid MEDLINE and Embase from database inception to Feb 1, 2019, to identify comparative studies to calculate the intracranial haemorrhage incidence rate ratio according to antithrombotic therapy use. We then generated a pooled estimate using the inverse variance method and a random effects model.

Findings: We assessed 300 of 306 individuals with a cerebral cavernous malformation who were eligible for study. 61 used antithrombotic therapy (ten [16%] of 61 used anticoagulation) for a mean duration of 7·4 years (SD 5·4) during follow-up. Antithrombotic therapy use was associated with a lower risk of subsequent intracranial haemorrhage or focal neurological deficit (one [2%] of 61 vs 29 [12%] of 239, adjusted hazard ratio [HR] 0·12, 95% CI 0·02-0·88; p=0·037). In a meta-analysis of six cohort studies including 1342 patients, antithrombotic therapy use was associated with a lower risk of intracranial haemorrhage (eight [3%] of 253 vs 152 [14%] of 1089; incidence rate ratio 0·25, 95% CI 0·13-0·51; p<0·0001; I2=0%).

Interpretation: Antithrombotic therapy use is associated with a lower risk of intracranial haemorrhage or focal neurological deficit from cerebral cavernous malformations than avoidance of antithrombotic therapy. These findings provide reassurance about safety for clinical practice and require further investigation in a randomised controlled trial.

Funding: UK Medical Research Council, Chief Scientist Office of the Scottish Government, The Stroke Association, Cavernoma Alliance UK, and the Remmert Adriaan Laan Foundation.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Cohort Studies
  • Female
  • Fibrinolytic Agents / administration & dosage
  • Fibrinolytic Agents / adverse effects*
  • Hemangioma, Cavernous, Central Nervous System / complications*
  • Humans
  • Intracranial Hemorrhages / chemically induced*
  • Long-Term Care
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Platelet Aggregation Inhibitors / administration & dosage
  • Platelet Aggregation Inhibitors / adverse effects*
  • Scotland


  • Fibrinolytic Agents
  • Platelet Aggregation Inhibitors