Introduction: In patients with a transient ischemic attack (TIA) or ischemic stroke, the combination of focal and nonfocal symptoms has been associated with a higher risk of cardiovascular events. We hypothesized that nonfocal symptoms are more frequent in patients with symptomatic stenosis of a vertebral artery (VA) than of a carotid artery (CA). Therefore, we assessed the prevalence of nonfocal symptoms in patients with a recent TIA or nondisabling ischemic stroke and studied their relation with symptomatic CA or VA stenosis. Methods: We administered a standardized questionnaire on the occurrence of focal and nonfocal symptoms during the qualifying TIA or nondisabling ischemic stroke and in the preceding 6 months. We included 50 consecutive patients with a recently symptomatic CA stenosis ≥50%, 50 consecutive patients with a recently symptomatic VA stenosis ≥50%, 25 consecutive patients with an anterior circulation event without an ipsilateral CA stenosis ≥50%, and 25 consecutive patients with a posterior circulation event without a relevant VA stenosis ≥50%. Relative risks for the presence of nonfocal symptoms in relation to the presence of a symptomatic stenosis were calculated with univariate and multivariate Poisson regression. Adjustments were made for age, sex, stroke as the qualifying event, and cardiovascular risk factors. A subgroup analysis was performed for patients in whom the vascular territory of the event was confirmed on imaging. Results: During the qualifying ischemic event, focal symptoms were accompanied by nonfocal symptoms in 80 (53%) patients. Nonfocal symptoms occurred more frequently in patients with a VA stenosis (72%) than in patients with a CA stenosis [26%; adjusted relative risk (aRR), 2.9; 95% confidence interval (CI), 1.8-4.6]. A higher prevalence of nonfocal symptoms was found in patients with posterior circulation TIAs and strokes (73%) than in patients with anterior circulation TIAs and strokes (33%; aRR, 2.2; 95% CI, 1.6-3.1). During the preceding 6 months, 45% of patients with and 20% of patients without a symptomatic stenosis had had nonfocal symptoms (aRR, 2.4; 95% CI, 1.3-4.3). Subgroup analysis for the 89 (59%) patients with ischemia visible on imaging gave essentially the same results. Conclusions: More than half of the TIAs or nondisabling ischemic strokes were associated with nonfocal neurological symptoms. Nonfocal symptoms occurred more frequently in patients with a symptomatic VA stenosis than CA stenosis.

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