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Health A-Z

Medical Content Created by the Faculty of the
Harvard Medical School

Diagnosis

Your doctor will want to know your medical history and your risk factors for stroke. Your doctor will take your blood pressure and examine you, including a neurological exam and a heart exam.

To diagnose and classify your stroke, your doctor will need an imaging test of your brain. Several tests can be useful, including a computed tomography (CT) scan or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan. For hemorrhagic strokes, CT scans are the fastest and most effective test. If a subarachnoid hemorrhage is suspected, your doctor may do a lumbar puncture, also called a spinal tap, in which a small sample of cerebrospinal fluid is removed through a needle inserted into your back. This fluid is examined to see if it contains blood. Another test, called an MRI angiography, can provide information about blood flow to your brain.

If these tests show that you are having a stroke, you will undergo tests to check for the cause. Because a hemorrhagic stroke involves bleeding, it is important to assess the ability of your blood to clot. If you take a blood-thinning medication called warfarin (Coumadin), which can contribute to a stroke, your blood will be tested to measure the drug effect. If the infection endocarditis is suspected, blood samples will be drawn and checked in a laboratory for bacteria. You may have an electrocardiogram (EKG) and chest X-ray. Blood tests will be done to evaluate your cell counts and the ability of your blood to clot. Some people will have 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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