Health A-Z

Medical Content Created by the Faculty of the Harvard Medical School



Your doctor will review your medical history and your risk factors for stroke. Risk factors for stroke include:

  • High blood pressure

  • Smoking

  • Diabetes

  • Certain types of heart disease

  • Family history of stroke

Your doctor will examine you. He or she will pay specific attention to your blood pressure and your heart. The doctor will do a neurological examination to check for changes in your brain function.

To diagnose and classify your stroke, your doctor will need an imaging test of the brain. Tests can include:

  • Computed tomography (CT) scan. Creates cross-sectional images of the head and brain.

  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan. Uses magnetic fields to detect changes in brain tissue. MRI can provide an earlier and more accurate diagnosis of stroke than CT scan. But it is not as widely available as CT.

Depending on the type of stroke suspected, your doctor may do a lumbar puncture (also called a spinal tap). This checks your cerebrospinal fluid for blood. Other imaging tests, such as Doppler ultrasonography or MRI angiography, may be used to evaluate blood flow to your brain.

If it is clear that you are having a stroke, your evaluation will include tests to check for a cause. You may have a chest X-ray and an electrocardiogram (EKG). Blood tests will evaluate your blood cell counts and the ability of your blood to clot. You may undergo ultrasound testing of the arteries in the neck (carotid Doppler) or of the heart (echocardiogram).

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From Health A-Z, Harvard Health Publications. Copyright 2007 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. All rights reserved. Written permission is required to reproduce, in any manner, in whole or in part, the material contained herein. To make a reprint request, contact Harvard Health Publications. Used with permission of StayWell.

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