Endovascular therapy versus medical treatment for symptomatic intracranial artery stenosis


Is endovascular therapy (ET) plus conventional medical treatment (CMT) beneficial for symptomatic intracranial atherosclerotic stenosis compared to CMT alone?


Narrowing of blood vessels in the brain (intracranial atherosclerotic stenosis: ICAS) is a common cause of stroke worldwide. The main treatment choices are catheter treatments (endovascular therapy: ET) and conventional medical treatment (CMT). However, it is unclear which treatment is best. We reviewed trials that compared ET and CMT for ICAS that had recently caused stroke symptoms.

Search date

The search was completed on 30 August 2019.

Study characteristics

We included three randomised controlled trials (studies in which participants are assigned to one of two or more treatment groups using a random method) with a total of 632 participants who had recent symptoms from ICAS. Two trials were carried out across multiple centres and compared ET with metal devices (stents) with CMT alone. One trial took place in a single Chinese centre and compared different types of ET with CMT alone.

Key results

ET was associated with a higher rate of death or further stroke at both early and late review. There were no major differences in the rates of mini-stroke and death or dependency in the long term.

Quality of the evidence

The quality of evidence was low to moderate due to performance bias and early termination of trials.

Authors' conclusions: 

This systematic review provides moderate-quality evidence showing that ET, compared with CMT, in people with recent symptomatic severe intracranial atherosclerotic stenosis probably does not prevent recurrent stroke and appears to carry an increased hazard. The impact of delayed ET intervention (more than three weeks after a qualifying event) is unclear and may warrant further study.

Read the full abstract...

Intracranial atherosclerotic stenosis (ICAS) is an arterial narrowing in the brain that can cause stroke. Endovascular therapy and medical management may be used to prevent recurrent ischaemic stroke caused by ICAS. However, there is no consensus on the best treatment for people with ICAS.


To compare the safety and efficacy of endovascular therapy (ET) plus conventional medical treatment (CMT) with CMT alone for the management of symptomatic ICAS.

Search strategy: 

We searched the Cochrane Stroke Group Trials Register (30 August 2019), Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL: to 30 August 2019), MEDLINE Ovid (1946 to 30 August 2019), Embase Ovid (1974 to 30 August 2019), Scopus (1960 to 30 August 2019), Science Citation Index Web of Science (1900 to 30 July 2019), Academic Source Complete EBSCO (ASC: 1982 to 30 July 2019), and China Biological Medicine Database (CBM: 1978 to 30 July 2019). We also searched the following trial registers: ClinicalTrials.gov, WHO International Clinical Trials Registry Platform, and Stroke Trials Registry. We also contacted trialists and researchers where additional information was required.

Selection criteria: 

Randomised controlled trials (RCTs) comparing ET plus CMT with CMT alone for the treatment of symptomatic ICAS. ET modalities included angioplasty alone, balloon-mounted stent, and angioplasty followed by placement of a self-expanding stent. CMT included antiplatelet therapy in addition to control of risk factors such as hypertension, hyperlipidaemia, and diabetes.

Data collection and analysis: 

Two review authors independently screened trials to select potentially eligible RCTs and extracted data. Any disagreements were resolved by discussing and reaching consensus decisions with the full team. We assessed risk of bias and applied the GRADE approach to assess the quality of the evidence. The primary outcome was death of any cause or non-fatal stroke of any type within three months of randomisation. Secondary outcomes included any-cause death or non-fatal stroke of any type more than three months of randomisation, ipsilateral stroke, type of recurrent event, death, restenosis, dependency, and health-related quality of life.

Main results: 

We included three RCTs with 632 participants who had symptomatic ICAS with an age range of 18 to 85 years. The included trials had high risks of performance bias and other potential sources of bias due to the impossibility of blinding of the endovascular intervention and early termination of the trials. Moreover, one trial had a high risk of attrition bias because of the high rate of loss of one-year follow-up and the high proportion of participants transferred from endovascular therapy to medical management. The quality of evidence ranged from low to moderate, downgraded for imprecision.

Compared to CMT, ET probably results in a higher rate of 30-day death or stroke (risk ratio (RR) 3.07, 95% confidence interval (CI) 1.80 to 5.24; 3 RCTs, 632 participants, moderate-quality evidence), 30-day ipsilateral stroke (RR 3.54, 95% CI 1.98 to 6.33; 3 RCTs, 632 participants, moderate-quality evidence), 30-day ischaemic stroke (RR 2.52, 95% CI 1.37 to 4.62; 3 RCTs, 632 participants, moderate-quality evidence), and 30-day haemorrhagic stroke (RR 15.53, 95% CI 2.10 to 115.16; 3 RCTs, 632 participants, low-quality evidence). ET was also likely associated with a worse outcome in one-year death or stroke (RR 1.69, 95% CI 1.21 to 2.36; 3 RCTs, 632 participants, moderate-quality evidence), one-year ipsilateral stroke (RR 2.28, 95% CI 1.52 to 3.42; 3 RCTs, 632 participants, moderate-quality evidence), one-year ischaemic stroke (RR 2.07, 95% CI 1.37 to 3.13; 3 RCTs, 632 participants, moderate-quality evidence), and one-year haemorrhagic stroke (RR 10.13, 95% CI 1.31 to 78.51; 2 RCTs, 521 participants, low-quality evidence). There were no significant differences between ET and CMT in 30-day transient ischaemic attacks (TIA) (RR 0.52, 95% CI 0.11 to 2.35, P = 0.39; 2 RCTs, 181 participants, moderate-quality evidence), 30-day death (RR 5.53, 95% CI 0.98 to 31.17, P = 0.05; 3 RCTs, 632 participants, low-quality evidence), one-year TIA (RR 0.82, 95% CI 0.32 to 2.12; 2 RCTs, 181 participants, moderate-quality evidence), one-year death (RR 1.20, 95% CI 0.50 to 2.86, P = 0.68; 3 RCTs, 632 participants, moderate-quality evidence), and one-year dependency (RR 1.90, 95% CI 0.91 to 3.97, P = 0.09; 3 RCTs, 613 participants, moderate-quality evidence). No data on restenosis and health-related quality of life for meta-analysis were available from the included trials. Two RCTs are ongoing.