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Review article: Biomedical intelligence

Vol. 145 No. 2122 (2015)

Aetiological blood biomarkers of ischaemic stroke

  • Julian Bruno Sonderer
  • Mira Katan Kahles
Cite this as:
Swiss Med Wkly. 2015;145:w14138


Each year, over 5 million people die worldwide from stroke, and at least every sixth patient who survives will experience another stroke within five years [1]. We are therefore eager to advance early and rapid diagnosis, prognosis and optimal risk stratification, as well as secondary prevention. In this context, blood biomarkers may improve patient care, as they have already done in other fields in the past, for example, troponin T/I in patients with heart attacks, natriuretic peptides in patients with heart failure or PCT (procalcitonin) [2] in patients with pneumonia. In the setting of acute stroke, a blood biomarker can be any quantifiable entity that reflects the manifestation of a stroke-related process. The most fruitful implementation of stroke biomarkers is in areas where information from traditional clinical sources is limited. There may be markers, for example, to guide risk stratification, reveal stroke aetiology, identify patients who may benefit most from interventions, monitor treatment efficacy, and recognise the risk of short-term complications or unfavourable long-term outcomes.

For this review we focus on blood biomarkers that could help distinguish the underlying aetiology of an ischaemic stroke. Stroke tends to be a much more heterogeneous condition than ischaemic heart disease, which is caused by atherosclerosis in the vast majority of cases. Causes of stroke include small and large vessel disease, cardioembolism, dissections, and rare vasculo- and coagulopathies, among others. Because of this heterogeneity among stroke patients, it is clear that a monolithic approach to stroke prevention or secondary prevention is not warranted.

Aetiological classification is important specifically because prognosis, risk of recurrence and management options differ greatly between aetiological subtypes. Considering that today up to 30% of stroke patients still cannot be classified into a specific subtype [3], the ability to improve aetiological classification to direct prevention methods at the underlying mechanism would be of greatest interest.

For this review we collected data from studies, on aetiological blood biomarkers in ischaemic stroke patients, listed in PubMed up to October 2014. We describe the potential role of 22 selected blood biomarkers in the context of stroke aetiology. Finally we provide the readers with an outlook in this research field.


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