Diagnosing Stroke

The first step in caring for someone with stroke symptoms is to determine whether they are actually experiencing a stroke. Two different tests are often used to help diagnose a stroke:

Computerized Tomography (CT)

A CT scanner is a doughnut-shaped, precise imaging machine and is the first test performed to see if the stroke symptoms are caused by bleeding or a clot. Patients lie on a table in the middle of the machine. The machine takes very detailed pictures of a patient’s head. It can look at bones, brain, fluid-filled spaces and blood vessels.

Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)

MRI is a type of imaging test that uses strong magnetic and radio waves to take pictures of the inside of your body. This test provides more detailed information about the event that has occurred.

Other Useful Tests

Carotid Duplex

A carotid duplex is an ultrasound test that checks the carotid arteries for signs of plaque, or obstructed blood flow. This ultrasound is painless and does not take much time to complete. If a blockage is found, additional testing may be needed.


A CT Angiogram can image the large blood vessels of the head and neck and may show blockages of those vessels.

Echocardiogram (Echo)

An echocardiogram uses sound waves (ultrasound) to produce moving pictures of your heart. It is also known as an echo. An echo looks at how well your heart works. The doctor may look at size of the heart, how the blood flows and how well the heart pumps. In most cases, it is performed by applying an ultrasound probe to the chest.

In special cases, it may be done internally by inserting the probe into the esophagus (food pipe). This is called a transesophageal echocardiogram (TEE). It uses the same ultrasound waves as a traditional echocardiogram, but a TEE gives a closer and clearer picture of the heart.

Magnetic Resonance Angiography (MRA)

MRA is an imaging test that uses strong magnetic and radio waves to take pictures of the blood vessels. Both MRI and MRA show detailed pictures of the brain and help show where damage to the brain might be located. If the patient is unable to have a MRI or MRA performed, a second CT scan may be performed.

Loop Recorder Implantation

An implantable loop recorder, or ILR, is a heart recording device that is implanted underneath the chest skin. It has several uses. The most common ones include looking for causes of fainting, palpitations, very fast or slow heartbeats, and hidden rhythms that can cause strokes. The device works as an electrocardiogram (ECG), continuously picking up electrical signals from your heart. An implantable loop recorder can record heart rhythm for up to three years.