Background: The Stroke Prevention Trial in Sickle Cell Anemia (STOP) and Optimizing Primary Stroke Prevention in Sickle Cell Anemia (STOP 2) established routine transcranial Doppler ultrasound (TCD) screening with indefinite chronic red cell transfusions (CRCT) for children with abnormal TCD as standard of care. To identify children at high-risk of stroke, annual TCD screening is recommended from ages 2 to 16 years, with more frequent monitoring if the result is not normal. A reduction in stroke incidence in children with SCD has been reported in several clinical series and analyses utilizing large hospital databases when comparing rates before and after the publication of the STOP study in 1998. We sought to determine the rate of first ischemic stroke in a multicenter cohort of children who had previously participated in the STOP and/or STOP 2 trials and to determine whether these strokes were screening or treatment failures.
Subjects and Methods: Between 1995 and 2005, STOP and STOP 2 (STOP/2) were conducted at 26 sites in the US and Canada. These studies included 3,835 children, ages 2 to 16 y with SCD type SS or S-beta-0-thalassemia. Participation in STOP/2 ranged from a single screening TCD to randomization. STOP 2 also had an observational arm for children on CRCT for abnormal TCD whose TCD had not reverted to normal. The Post-STOP study was designed to follow-up the outcomes of children who participated in one or both trials. 19 of the 26 original study sites participated in Post-STOP, contributing a total of 3,539 (92%) of the STOP/2 subjects. After exit from STOP/2, these children received TCD screening and treatment according to local practices. Data abstractors visited each clinical site and obtained retrospective data from STOP/2 study exit to 2012-2014 (depending on site) including follow-up TCD and brain imaging results, clinical information, and laboratory results. Two vascular neurologists, blinded to STOP/2 status and prior TCD and neuroimaging results, reviewed source records to confirm all ischemic strokes, defined as a symptomatic cerebral infarction; discordant opinions were resolved through discussion. For the first Post-STOP ischemic stroke, prior TCD result and treatment history subsequently were analyzed.
Results: Of the 3,539 subjects, follow-up data were available for 2,850 (81%). Twelve children who had a stroke during STOP or STOP2 were excluded from these analyses resulting in data on 2,838 subjects. The mean age at the start of Post-STOP was 10.5 y and mean duration of follow-up after exiting STOP/2 was 9.1 y. A total of 69 first ischemic strokes occurred in the Post-STOP observation period (incidence 0.27 per 100 pt years). The mean age at time of stroke was 14.4±6.2 (median 13.8, range 3.5-28.9) y. Twenty-five of the 69 patients (36%) had documented abnormal TCD (STOP/2 or Post-STOP) prior to the stroke; 15 (60%) were receiving CRCT and 9 (36%) were not (treatment data not available for 1 subject). Among the 44 subjects without documented abnormal TCD, 29 (66%) had not had TCD re-screen in the Post-STOP period prior to the event; 7 of these 29 (24%) were 16 y or older at the start of Post-STOP, which is beyond the recommended screening age. Four of the 44 (9%) patients had inadequate TCD in Post-STOP (1 to 10.7 y prior to event). Six (14%) had normal TCD more than a year before the event (1.2 - 4 y); all but one of these children were younger than 16 y at the time of that TCD. Only 5 (11%) had a documented normal TCD less than 1 year prior to the event.
Conclusions: In the Post-STOP era, the rate of first ischemic stroke was substantially lower than that reported in the Cooperative Study of Sickle Cell Disease, prior to implementation of TCD screening. Many (39%) of the Post-STOP ischemic strokes were associated with a failure to re-screen according to current guidelines, while only 11% occurred in children who had had recent low-risk TCD. Among those known to be at high risk prior to stroke, treatment refusal or inadequate treatment may have contributed. While TCD screening and treatment are effective at reducing ischemic stroke in clinical practice, significant gaps in screening and treatment, even at sites experienced in the STOP protocol, remain to be addressed. Closing these gaps should provide yet further reduction of ischemic stroke in SCD.
No relevant conflicts of interest to declare.
Asterisk with author names denotes non-ASH members.