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Open Access Research article

Acute symptomatic hypoglycaemia mimicking ischaemic stroke on imaging: a systemic review

Ai Wain Yong1, Zoe Morris1, Kirsten Shuler1, Colin Smith2 and Joanna Wardlaw13*

Author Affiliations

1 Division of Clinical Neurosciences, Western General Hospital, Edinburgh, UK

2 Department of Neuropathology, Western General Hospital, Edinburgh, UK

3 Neuroradiology, Bramwell Dott Building, Division of Clinical Neurosciences, University of Edinburgh, Western General Hospital, Edinburgh, EH4 2XU, UK

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BMC Neurology 2012, 12:139  doi:10.1186/1471-2377-12-139

Published: 21 November 2012

Abstract

Background

Acute symptomatic hypoglycaemia is a differential diagnosis in patients presenting with stroke-like neurological impairment, but few textbooks describe the full brain imaging appearances. We systematically reviewed the literature to identify how often hypoglycaemia may mimic ischaemic stroke on imaging, common patterns and relationships with hypoglycaemia severity, duration, clinical outcome and add two new cases.

Methods

We searched EMBASE and Medline databases for papers reporting imaging in adults with symptomatic hypoglycaemia. We analysed the clinical presentation, outcome, brain imaging findings, duration and severity of hypoglycaemia, time course of lesion appearance, including two new cases.

Results

We found 42 papers describing computed tomography or magnetic resonance imaging in 65 patients, plus our two cases with symptomatic hypoglycaemia. Imaging abnormalities on computed tomography and magnetic resonance were uni or bilateral, cortical or sub-cortical. Thirteen (20%) mimicked cortical or lacunar stroke. Acute lesions had restricted diffusion on magnetic resonance or low attenuation on computed tomography, plus swelling; older lesions showed focal atrophy or disappeared, as with ischaemic stroke. The association between the depth or duration of hypoglycaemia, the severity or extent of neurological deficit, and the imaging abnormalities, was weak.

Conclusion

Imaging abnormalities in patients with hypoglycaemia are uncommon but very variable, weakly associated with neurological deficit, and about a fifth mimic acute ischaemic stroke. Blood glucose testing should be routine in all patients with acute neurological impairment and hypoglycaemia should be included in the differential diagnosis of imaging appearances in patients presenting with acute stroke.

Keywords:
Hypoglycaemia; Ischaemic stroke; MRI; CT; Lesions