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Diagnosing stroke

All Allina Health hospitals have access to stroke neurology specialists either in person or via TeleStroke 24 hours a day/7 days a week.

Get help immediately

As soon as the symptoms of stroke begin, it is very important to call 911. The sooner someone experiencing stroke can get to an emergency department,the better their chances are to get treatment that can reverse the stroke process, limit potential injury or save their life.

The first few hours are a window of opportunity for ischemic stroke since the loss of blood flow (ischemia) may not yet have caused permanent damage. Treatments that help to dissolve clots and restore blood flow can result in significant improvement in the stroke patient’s condition if given early.

In the case of a hemorrhagic stroke,in the early hours after symptoms begin, the hemorrhage may still get larger. Early treatment measures may help to limit this increase in size and therefore limit some of the damage.

At an Allina Health hospital, if someone experiencing stroke arrives in time for early treatment choices to have an impact, evaluation maybe expedited by something called a Stroke Code. This is a process that rapidly assembles a team of people to the bedside.

This team’s sole purpose is to quickly complete the initial evaluation so that time-sensitive treatment choices are given as quickly as possible (if appropriate). When a stroke is suspected, diagnosis is made by a neurologist who specializes in stoke. He or she reviews the patient’s symptoms, medical history, physical exam and test results.   

The initial emergency department experience often includes:

  • Physical and neurological examination: Emergency staff is primarily looking for neurological signs of stroke and assessing breathing and heart functions.
  • Starting an IV: A small catheter is placed in a vein in your arm to allow rapid administration of any treatment needed directly into your blood system.
  • Computed tomography (CT) scan of the head: This X-ray of the brain tissue is a critical first test that allows the doctor to determine whether the patient is having a hemorrhagic or ischemic stroke. The collection of blood within the head from a hemorrhagic stroke is immediately visible, whereas an ischemic stroke may show no evidence of injury on the CT scan in the early hours.
  • Laboratory tests: Blood is drawn and sent to the laboratory for initial tests. The results may be necessary before treatment can begin.
  • Electrocardiogram (ECG): This is a test of heart rhythm performed at the bedside. The result may impact the treatment choices available and may suggest a cause for the stroke.