OBJECTIVE: The role of heparin in acute ischemic stroke is controversial. We investigated the effect of heparin on ischemic lesion growth.
METHODS: Data were analyzed on nonthrombolyzed ischemic stroke patients in whom diffusion-weighted imaging (DWI)/perfusion-weighted imaging (PWI) MRI was performed less than 12 hours of last known well and showed a PWI-DWI lesion mismatch, and who underwent follow-up neuroimaging at least 4 days after admission. Lesion growth was assessed by (1) absolute lesion growth and (2) percentage mismatch lost (PML). Univariate and multivariate regression analysis, and propensity score matching, were used to determine the effects of heparin on ischemic lesion growth.
RESULTS: Of the 113 patients meeting study criteria, 59 received heparin within 24 hours. Heparin use was associated with ∼5-fold reductions in PML (3.5% versus 19.2%, P = .002) and absolute lesion growth (4.7 versus 20.5 mL, P = .009). In multivariate regression models, heparin independently predicted reduced PML (P = .04) and absolute lesion growth (P = .04) in the entire cohort, and in multiple subgroups (patients with and without proximal artery occlusion; DWI volume greater than 5 mL; cardio-embolic mechanism; DEFUSE-3 target mismatch). In propensity score matching analysis where patients were matched by admission NIHSS, DWI volume and proximal artery occlusion, heparin remained an independent predictor of PML (P = .048) and tended to predict absolute lesion growth (P = .06). Heparin treatment did not predict functional outcome at discharge or 90 days.
CONCLUSION: Early heparin treatment in acute ischemic stroke patients with PWI-DWI mismatch attenuates ischemic lesion growth. Clinical trials with careful patient selection are warranted to investigate the potential ischemic protective effects of heparin.