In Potential Stroke Patients on Warfarin, the International Normalized Ratio Predicts Ischemia

Cathy Cao, Ashley Martinelli, Brian Spoelhof, Rafael H. Llinas, Elisabeth B. Marsh

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Background: Stroke can occur in patients on warfarin despite anticoagulation. Patients with a low international normalized ratio (INR) should theoretically be at greater risk for ischemia than those who are therapeutic. Therefore, INR may be able to indicate whether new neurological deficits are more likely strokes or stroke mimics in patients on warfarin. This study evaluates the association and predictive value of INR in determining the likelihood of ischemia. Methods: Patients were identified using the acute stroke registry at a Primary Stroke Center from January 2013 through December 2014. All adult patients undergoing evaluation for acute stroke with prior documented use of warfarin and an INR level at presentation were included. Data were collected regarding patient demographics, medical comorbidities, stroke severity, reason for anticoagulation, and laboratory studies including INR. Student t tests and χ2 analysis were used to evaluate factors associated with increased likelihood of ischemia (stroke or transient ischemic attack) versus mimic. Significant results were entered into a multivariable regression analysis. Sensitivity and specificity analyses were conducted to determine the predictive value of INR for ischemic risk. Results: 116 patients were included; 46 were diagnosed with ischemia, 70 were diagnosed as mimics. 75% of patients were on warfarin for atrial fibrillation versus 25% for venous thrombosis. A statistically significant difference in mean INR for patients with ischemia (n = 46) versus mimics (n = 70) was observed (1.7 vs. 2.8; p < 0.001). In multivariable analysis, both sub-therapeutic INR (p < 0.001) and atrial fibrillation (p = 0.014) were predictors of ischemia. In patients with an INR ≥2, the predictive value of having a non-ischemic etiology was 79%. No patient with an INR of ≥3.6 was found to have ischemia. Conclusions: Sub-therapeutic INR and atrial fibrillation are strongly associated with ischemia in patients on warfarin presenting with acute neurologic symptoms. Ischemia is far less likely in patients with an INR of ≥2 and rare in those with an INR ≥3.6. This study shows that the INR value of a patient on warfarin can help stratify patients' risk for acute ischemic stroke and guide further neurologic imaging and workup.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)111-119
Number of pages9
JournalCerebrovascular Diseases Extra
Issue number2
StatePublished - May 2 2017


  • Cerebrovascular disease
  • International normalized ratio
  • Ischemic stroke
  • Warfarin

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neurology
  • Clinical Neurology
  • Cardiology and Cardiovascular Medicine


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