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    • Subcategory of 'Diagnosis' designed to be very sensitiveRule Out
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    Chief Complaint


    Organ System


    Patent Pending

    Fisher Grading Scale for Subarachnoid Hemorrhage (SAH)

    Rates risk of vasospasm in aSAH based on amount and distribution of blood on CT.


    This scale only applies to aneurysmal subarachnoid hemorrhage (aSAH). We recommend using the Modified Fisher Grading Scale based on more recent studies.

    Clinician must be able to identify subarachnoid hemorrhage (SAH) and major neuroanatomical landmarks on head CT.

    When to Use
    Why Use

    Patients with aSAH.

    • The Fisher Grading Scale was originally designed to predict risk of cerebral arterial vasospasm in patients with aneurysmal subarachnoid hemorrhage (aSAH) based on radiographic distribution of subarachnoid hemorrhage.
    • The Fisher scale is entirely radiographic and typically determined at presentation.
    • Variable rates of vasospasm corresponding to each Fisher grade have been reported in studies; therefore, the scale should not be used to quote an exact probability of vasospasm or delayed cerebral ischemia (DCI).
    • The Fisher scale should also NOT be used as the sole clinical data point to make decisions on medical management or goals of care.

    Points to Keep in Mind:

    • The Fisher scale has a number of shortcomings:
      • It does not consider the effect of thick cisternal subarachnoid blood or intraventricular hemorrhage (IVH), which are both known risk factors for vasospasm (Claassen et al 2001, Wilson et al 2012). For this reason, the Modified Fisher Grading Scale is often preferred by many neurocritical care providers.
      • Higher Fisher scale grades do not necessarily correlate with increasing probability of vasospasm. Studies show little to no difference between grades 1 and 2 (Claassen 2001), and that grade 4 is associated with a lower rate of clinical vasospasm than grade 3 (Fisher 1980 & 1983, Smith 2005, Frontera 2006, Kramer 2008).
      • The original Fisher scale was developed based on measurements on paper printouts from a low-resolution EMI CT scanner, which was not reflective of true SAH thickness. In reality, most SAH is >1 mm thick, so Grades 1 and 2 are rare. (Rosen 2005)
    • The scale does NOT apply to SAH due to trauma, arteriovenous malformations, cavernous angiomas, dural arteriovenous fistulae, cortical or sinus venous thromboses, mycotic aneurysms, or septic emboli with hemorrhagic transformation.
    • Angiographic vasospasm occurs in at least 50% of patients with aSAH and often results in DCI, which occurs in up to 46% of all patients with aSAH and can cause devastating neurological consequences and/or death (Claassen 2001).
    • Because vasospasm typically occurs between 4 and 14 days (“vasospasm window”) after the onset of aSAH, the Fisher scale may allow timely preventative treatment for vasospasm and DCI to be initiated (Fisher 1983).
    • Despite its well-documented shortcomings, the Fisher grading scale remains widely used and well-known in critical care and neurocritical care communities.
    No SAH detected
    Diffuse or vertical layer of subarachnoid blood < 1mm thick
    Localized clot and/or vertical layer within the subarachnoid space > 1mm thick
    Intracerebral hemorrhage (ICH) or intraventricular hemorrhage (IVH) with diffuse or no SAH

    Diagnostic Result:

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    Next Steps
    Creator Insights
    Dr. C. Miller Fisher

    About the Creator

    Charles Miller Fisher, MD, (d. 2014), was Professor Emeritus at Harvard Medical School, where he spent 50 years as a teacher and clinician. He was an active researcher in stroke neurology and is credited with identifying and naming transient ischemic attacks (TIA). He was a founder of the Massachusetts General Hospital Stroke Service and was inducted into the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame.

    To view Dr. C. Miller Fisher's publications, visit PubMed

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    About the Creator
    Dr. C. Miller Fisher
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