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Effectiveness of diagnostic strategies in suspected delayed cerebral ischemia: a decision analysis.

BACKGROUND AND PURPOSE: Delayed cerebral ischemia (DCI) is a serious complication after aneurysmal subarachnoid hemorrhage. If DCI is suspected clinically, imaging methods designed to detect angiographic vasospasm or regional hypoperfusion are often used before instituting therapy. Uncertainty in the strength of the relationship between imaged vasospasm or perfusion deficits and DCI-related outcomes raises the question of whether imaging to select patients for therapy improves outcomes in clinical DCI.

METHODS: Decision analysis was performed using Markov models. Strategies were either to treat all patients immediately or to first undergo diagnostic testing by digital subtraction angiography or computed tomography angiography to assess for angiographic vasospasm, or computed tomography perfusion to assess for perfusion deficits. According to current practice guidelines, treatment consisted of induced hypertension. Outcomes were survival in terms of life-years and quality-adjusted life-years.

RESULTS: When treatment was assumed to be ineffective in nonvasospasm patients, Treat All and digital subtraction angiography were equivalent strategies; when a moderate treatment effect was assumed in nonvasospasm patients, Treat All became the superior strategy. Treating all patients was also superior to selecting patients for treatment via computed tomography perfusion. One-way sensitivity analyses demonstrated that the models were robust; 2- and 3-way sensitivity analyses with variation of disease and treatment parameters reinforced dominance of the Treat All strategy.

CONCLUSIONS: Imaging studies to test for the presence of angiographic vasospasm or perfusion deficits in patients with clinical DCI do not seem helpful in selecting which patients should undergo treatment and may not improve outcomes. Future directions include validating these results in prospective cohort studies.

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