Background: Although the clinical features of space-occupying ischemic stroke are well known, there are limited prospective data on the clinical course of complete middle cerebral artery territory infarction and on the predisposing factors leading to subsequent herniation and brain death.
Methods: The clinical course of patients with complete middle cerebral artery territory infarction, defined by computed tomography and vascular imaging, was evaluated. Initial clinical presentation was assessed by the Scandinavian Stroke Scale and the Glasgow Coma Scale. Serial computed tomography with measurement of midline and septum pellucidum shift and data on the presence and location of vascular occlusion by angiography or Doppler ultrasound were obtained directly after admission. Time course and outcome were analyzed with regard to the clinical findings on admission and at follow-up. The functional status of surviving patients was assessed using the Barthel Index.
Results: Fifty-five patients with complete middle cerebral artery territory infarction caused by occlusion of either the distal intracranial carotid artery or the proximal middle cerebral artery trunk were studied. In all patients, embolic infarction was presumed. The mean Scandinavian Stroke Scale score on admission was 20, and the time course of deterioration varied between 2 and 5 days. Forty-nine patients required ventilator assistance during the acute stage of disease. Only 12 patients (22%) survived the infarct. The cause of death was transtentorial herniation with subsequent brain death in 43 patients. Survivors had a mean Barthel Index score of 60 (range, 45 to 70).
Conclusions: The prognosis of complete middle cerebral artery territory stroke is very poor and can be estimated by early clinical and neuroradiological data within the first few hours after the onset of symptoms. A space-occupying mass effect develops rapidly and predictably over the initial 5 days after presentation. Herniation occurred as an end point in 43 (78%) of these patients.