Silent brain infarcts and white matter lesions increase stroke risk in the general population: the Rotterdam Scan Study

Sarah E Vermeer, Monika Hollander, Ewoud J van Dijk, Albert Hofman, Peter J Koudstaal, Monique M B Breteler
Stroke; a Journal of Cerebral Circulation 2003, 34 (5): 1126-9

BACKGROUND AND PURPOSE: Silent brain infarcts and white matter lesions are associated with an increased risk of subsequent stroke in minor stroke patients. In healthy elderly people, silent brain infarcts and white matter lesions are common, but little is known about their relevance. We examined the risk of stroke associated with these lesions in the general population.

METHODS: The Rotterdam Scan Study is a population-based prospective cohort study among 1077 elderly people. The presence of silent brain infarcts and white matter lesions was scored on cerebral MRI scans obtained from 1995 to 1996. Participants were followed for stroke for on average 4.2 years. We estimated the risk of stroke in relation to presence of brain lesions with Cox proportional hazards regression analysis.

RESULTS: Fifty-seven participants (6%) experienced a stroke during follow-up. Participants with silent brain infarcts had a 5 times higher stroke incidence than those without. The presence of silent brain infarcts increased the risk of stroke >3-fold, independently of other stroke risk factors (adjusted hazard ratio 3.9, 95% CI 2.3 to 6.8). People in the upper tertile of the white matter lesion distribution had an increased stroke risk compared with those in the lowest tertile (adjusted hazard ratio for periventricular lesions 4.7, 95% CI 2.0 to 11.2 and for subcortical lesions 3.6, 95% CI 1.4 to 9.2). Silent brain infarcts and severe white matter lesions increased the stroke risk independently of each other.

CONCLUSIONS: Elderly people with silent brain infarcts and white matter lesions are at a strongly increased risk of stroke, which could not be explained by the major stroke risk factors.

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