Defining Cause of Death in Stroke Patients: The Brain Attack Surveillance in Corpus Christi Project

Stroke mortality is an important national health statistic and represents a frequent endpoint for epidemiologic studies. Several methods have been used to determine cause of death after stroke, but their agreement and reliability are unknown. Two hundred consecutive deaths of transient ischemic attack or ischemic stroke patients were identified (January 2000-September 2001) from an ongoing population-based stroke surveillance study in Texas, The Brain Attack Surveillance in Corpus Christi Project. Two neurologists independently recorded the cause of death based on two methods: 1) determining the underlying cause of death as defined by the World Health Organization, and 2) determining whether the death was stroke related. Kappa statistics with 95% confidence intervals were calculated by comparing agreement between methods within reviewers and between reviewers within methods. Agreement between the two cause-of-death-determination methods for each neurologist was 0.41 (95% confidence interval (CI): 0.31, 0.51) and 0.47 (95% CI: 0.38, 0.58), respectively. Agreement between neurologists for the underlying-cause-of-death method was 0.46 (95% CI: 0.32, 0.60); for the stroke-related method, it was 0.63 (95% CI: 0.52, 0.75). Accurate, reliable determinations of cause of death after stroke/transient ischemic attack are not currently feasible. More research is needed to identify a reliable process for coding cause of death from stroke.