Background: Previous studies have suggested that patients with a transient ischemic attack (TIA) or minor ischemic stroke and isolated aphasia should be carefully screened for a potential cardiac source of embolism. Most of these publications, however, were case reports or small-series. The purpose of this study was to assess the relationship between isolated aphasia and atrial fibrillation (AF) as the cause of presumed cardioembolic TIA or stroke within the setting of 2 large multicenter trials. Methods: The frequency of isolated aphasia was compared between patients with a TIA or minor ischemic stroke either with AF [European Atrial Fibrillation Trial (EAFT), n = 1,001] or without AF [Dutch TIA Trial (DTT), n = 3,150]. We analyzed data with univariable and multivariable logistic regression. Isolated aphasia was defined as aphasia without dysarthria, visual-field defects or motor or sensory deficits of the arm, leg or face. Because dysarthria can be difficult to detect in aphasic patients, a second analysis was done without excluding dysarthric patients. In a third analysis, we excluded patients with a symptomatic lacunar infarct from the DTT, as these patients were overrepresented due to the exclusion of patients with AF. Subgroup analysis was performed for patients presenting with TIA and minor stroke. Results: Of 4,151 patients, 210 (5.1%) had isolated aphasia, 109 from the EAFT and 101 from the DTT, crude odds ratio (OR) 3.69, 95% confidence interval (CI) 2.79-4.89. Patients with isolated aphasia were older (mean age 70.3 vs. 66.8 years, p < 0.01), more often female (OR 1.87, 95% CI 1.41-2.46), and more often had diabetes (OR 1.73, 95% CI 1.16-2.59) and hypercholesterolemia (OR 1.83, 95% CI 1.11-3.03) than those without aphasia. After simultaneous adjustment for age, sex, diabetes and hypercholesterolemia, patients with isolated aphasia still had AF more often than patients without isolated aphasia (adjusted OR 2.94, 95% CI 2.16-4.01). Both after inclusion of patients with dysarthria in the group of patients with isolated aphasia and after exclusion of patients with a symptomatic lacunar infarct, essentially the results remained the same. Patients presenting with isolated aphasia due to a TIA tended to have AF more often than patients with a minor ischemic stroke. Conclusions: Isolated aphasia is an independent sign of AF in patients with a TIA or minor ischemic stroke. Careful cardiac screening seems warranted in patients with isolated aphasia, as secondary prevention is different in patients with a cardiac source of embolism.
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