Spinal cord transient ischemic attack: Insights from a series of spontaneous spinal cord infarction

Objective

To define the prevalence and characteristics of spinal cord transient ischemic attack (sTIA) in a large retrospective series of patients who met diagnostic criteria for spontaneous spinal cord infarction (SCI).

Methods

An institution-based search tool was used to identify patients evaluated at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN, from 1997 to 2017 with spontaneous SCI (n = 133). Cases were subsequently reviewed for transient myelopathic symptoms preceding infarction that were suspected ischemic in nature. We performed a descriptive analysis of patients with sTIA before SCI.

Results

Of 133 patients with a diagnosis of spontaneous SCI, we identified 4 patients (3%) who experienced sTIA before SCI. The median age at presentation was 61.5 years (range 46–75 years), 2 (50%) were women, and 3 (75%) had traditional vascular risk factors. Localization was cervical cord in 2 cases (50%) and thoracic cord in 2 cases (50%); all patients developed SCI in the same distribution as their preceding sTIA symptoms. All patients experienced recurrent sTIA before SCI. Symptoms ranged from seconds to a few minutes before returning to baseline. No patients had pain as a feature of sTIA.

Conclusions

sTIAs are possible but rare in patients who subsequently have a SCI. Clinical features are similar to those of SCI, with rapid onset of severe myelopathic deficits, followed by prompt resolution. Vascular risk factors are common in these patients. Thus, recognition of a sTIA may represent a valuable opportunity for vascular risk factor modification and stroke prevention. However, given the rarity, physicians should explore other possible explanations when sTIA is considered.

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