It is possible to diagnose the risk of a stroke based on various physical tests and brain scans, but an actual stroke can be diagnosed only after suffering from a suspected attack.
After being admitted to the hospital, the first thing that the doctor will do is identify whether you are suffering from any of the known symptoms of a stroke. Next, they’ll need to confirm the official diagnosis and determine what could have caused the stroke and how they can go about treating it.
To complete the official diagnosis, identify what type of stroke occurred, identify what part of the brain is damaged, and how much damage it caused will require brain scans. These are performed immediately after a patient suspected of a stroke arrives at the hospital.
Once there, there are two different types of brain scans that can be used.
- CT Scans — This type of scan is very similar to an X-ray. Multiple images of your brain will be taken in order to recreate it 3-dimensionally and identify any areas of interest. A CT scan is enough to determine whether or not you suffered from a stroke as a result of blocked arteries (ischemic stroke) or if you suffered from a stroke caused by ruptured blood vessels (hemorrhagic stroke.)
- MRI Scans — MRI Scans produce incredibly detailed images of the inside of your body, allowing for the identification of any problem areas that might not show up in your average CT scan. It’s also useful for identifying Transient Ischemic Attacks (TIAs), which are strokes that occur due to temporary blockages in the arteries transporting blood to your brain.
There are obvious advantages and disadvantages to both the CT Scan and MRI Scan — the CT scan is more efficient, which allows for faster treatments, but an MRI scan is more detailed and thus better for identifying minute damages.
Heart and Blood Vessel Tests
In some cases, tests studying your heart and blood vessels might be required in order to complete the diagnosis. For your blood vessels, an Ultrasound Scan of your carotid arteries (located in the back of your neck) is standard, in order to locate any narrowed or blocked arteries. These arteries connect directly to the brain and can potentially cause both Ischemic strokes and TIAs.
For your heart, an echocardiogram may be required. This involves, much like with the brain scans, producing multiple images of your heart in order to identify any problem areas that could have caused the stroke. The test is more invasive than the ultrasound scan required for your carotid arteries, but it is done under sedation for your comfort.
The Swallow Test
The swallow test is the simplest test of the three types mentioned, but it is still very effective. A person is given water to drink and their ability to swallow will decide whether a stroke had actually occurred. Swallowing is an ability connected to the part of our brain that is related to language and speech. So, any damage to that part of the brain would also result in a person’s inability to swallow water.
Final Thoughts: How is Stroke Diagnosed?
If you or anyone you know is suspected of suffering from a stroke, the best thing to do is to not delay. Get them to a hospital immediately so that the cause can be identified, and the damage treated.
- Al-Khaled, Mohamed. “Magnetic Resonance Imaging in Patients with Transient Ischemic Attack.” Neural Regeneration Research, Medknow Publications & Media Pvt Ltd, 1 Feb. 2014, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4146153/.