Background: Accurate localization of acute ischemic lesions in patients with an acute stroke may aid in understanding the etiology of their stroke and may improve the management of these patients.
Objective: To determine the yield of adding diffusion-weighted magnetic resonance imaging (DWI) to a conventional magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) protocol for acute stroke.
Design: A prospective cohort study.
Setting: A referral center.
Patients and methods: Fifty-two patients with a clinical diagnosis of acute stroke who presented within 48 hours after symptom onset were included. An MRI scan was obtained within 48 hours after symptom onset. A neuroradiologist (A.M.N.) and a stroke neurologist (G.W.A.) independently identified suspected acute ischemic lesions on MRI sequences in the following order: (1) T2-weighted and proton density-weighted images, (2) fluid-attenuated inversion recovery images, and (3) diffusion-weighted images and apparent diffusion coefficient maps.
Main outcome measures: Diagnostic yield and interrater reliability for the identification of acute lesions, and confidence and conspicuity ratings of acute lesions for different MRI sequences.
Results: Conventional MRI correctly identified at least one acute lesion in 71% (34/48) to 80% (39/49) of patients who had an acute stroke; with the addition of DWI, this percentage increased to 94% (46/49) (P<.001). Conventional MRI showed only moderate sensitivity (50%-60%) and specificity (49%-69%) compared with a "criterion standard." Based on the diffusion-weighted sequence, interrater reliability for identifying acute lesions was moderate for conventional MRI (kappa = 0.5-0.6) and good for DWI (kappa = 0.8). The observers' confidence with which lesions were rated as acute and the lesion conspicuity was significantly (P<.01) higher for DWI than for conventional MRI.
Conclusion: During the first 48 hours after symptom onset, the addition of DWI to conventional MRI improves the accuracy of identifying acute ischemic brain lesions in patients who experienced a stroke.