BACKGROUND: Patent foramen ovale (PFO) is a potential mechanism for paradoxical embolism in cryptogenic ischaemic stroke or transient ischaemic attack (TIA). PFO is typically demonstrated with agitated saline ("bubble study", BS) during echocardiography. We hypothesised that the BS is frequently requested in patients that have a readily identifiable cause of stroke, that any PFO detected is likely incidental, and its detection often does not alter management.
METHODS: This was a retrospective observational study of patients with recent ischaemic stroke/TIA referred for a BS. Patient demographics, stroke risk factors, vascular/cerebral imaging results and transoesophageal echocardiogram (TOE) reports were recorded. A "modified" Risk of Paradoxical Embolism (RoPE) score was calculated. Change in management was defined as antiplatelet/anticoagulant therapy alteration or referral for PFO closure. Bubble Study complications were recorded.
RESULTS: Among 715 patients with ischaemic stroke/TIA referred for a BS, 8.7% had atrial fibrillation and 9.2% had carotid stenosis ≥70%. At least three stroke risk factors were present in 39.3% and only 47.1% of patients screened had a "modified" RoPE score of >5. A PFO was detected in 248 patients of whom only 31% (77/248) had a subsequent change in management. Of BS performed, 1/924 patients (0.1%) suffered a TIA as a complication.
CONCLUSIONS: The echocardiographic BS is frequently performed in patients that have a readily identifiable cause of stroke and whose PFO unlikely relates to the stroke/TIA. Bubble Study findings resulted in a change in management in the minority. The procedure is safe but the complication rate warrants informed consent.