Introduction: A number of pre-hospital clinical assessment tools have been developed to triage subjects with acute stroke due to large vessel occlusion (LVO) to a specialised endovascular centre, but their false negative rates remain high leading to inappropriate and costly emergency transfers. Transcranial ultrasonography may represent a valuable pre-hospital tool for selecting patients with LVO who could benefit from rapid transfer to a dedicated centre.
Methods: Diagnostic accuracy of transcranial ultrasonography in acute stroke was subjected to systematic review. Medline, Embase, PubMed, Scopus, and The Cochrane Library were searched. Published articles reporting diagnostic accuracy of transcranial ultrasonography in comparison to a reference imaging method were selected. Studies reporting estimates of diagnostic accuracy were included in the meta-analysis.
Results: Twenty-seven published articles were selected for the systematic review. Transcranial Doppler findings, such as absent or diminished blood flow signal in a major cerebral artery and asymmetry index ≥ 21% were shown to be suggestive of LVO. It demonstrated sensitivity ranging from 68 to 100% and specificity of 78-99% for detecting acute steno-occlusive lesions. Area under the receiver operating characteristics curve was 0.91. Transcranial ultrasonography can also detect haemorrhagic foci, however, its application is largely restricted by lesion location.
Conclusions: Transcranial ultrasonography might potentially be used for the selection of subjects with acute LVO, to help streamline patient care and allow direct transfer to specialised endovascular centres. It can also assist in detecting haemorrhagic lesions in some cases, however, its applicability here is largely restricted. Additional research should optimize the scanning technique. Further work is required to demonstrate whether this diagnostic approach, possibly combined with clinical assessment, could be used at the pre-hospital stage to justify direct transfer to a regional thrombectomy centre in suitable cases.
Keywords: Acute cerebral ischaemia; Intracerebral haemorrhage; Large vessel occlusion; Neuroimaging; Stroke; Transcranial ultrasonography.