Diffusion-weighted imaging and National Institutes of Health Stroke Scale in the acute phase of posterior-circulation stroke

Arch Neurol. 2001 Apr;58(4):621-8. doi: 10.1001/archneur.58.4.621.


Background: Occlusive disease of the posterior circulation represents a heterogeneous group of strokes that differ in etiology, clinical presentation, and prognosis. Computed tomography provides suboptimal visualization of posterior-circulation infarcts. Anatomic definition of traditional magnetic resonance imaging sequences has been used for clinicoradiologic correlation in patients with posterior-circulation disease. These studies focused on the subacute rather than the acute phase of ischemia. Lesion volumes on diffusion-weighted imaging (DWI) and perfusion imaging were found to have a good correlation with 24-hour National Institutes of Health stroke scale (NIHSS) score in ischemia of the anterior circulation. Correlation between NIHSS score and lesion volume in posterior-circulation infarcts is unknown.

Objectives: To investigate whether DWI is useful for clinicoradiologic correlation of posterior-circulation ischemia within 24 hours after symptom onset and whether NIHSS score correlates with lesion volumes in patients with posterior-circulation stroke.

Patients and methods: In a database analysis of 631 patients with stroke from June 26, 1996, to July 30, 1999, 115 patients (18%) had symptoms of posterior-circulation ischemia by imaging and clinical criteria. Among these 115, we included all patients (n = 40) who underwent DWI within 24 hours from symptom onset (mean, 9.7 +/- 7.1 hours). All 40 patients also underwent magnetic resonance angiography and T2-weighted imaging. Seventy-five did not meet inclusion criteria: in 45, magnetic resonance imaging was performed more than 24 hours after symptom onset; 12 did not have DWI; in 11 patients, symptoms resolved within 24 hours; 6 had hemorrhages; and 1 had a border zone infarct.

Results: An acute lesion on DWI corresponding to the patient's symptoms was detected in all 40 patients, 16 (40%) of whom had detectable acute lesions on T2-weighted images. The lesions on DWI were larger in 11 of the 16 patients with positive T2-weighted images. Acute lesion volume did not correlate with NIHSS score (n = 40; rho = 0.30; P =.06, Spearman rank) also when DWI lesion volumes were divided by cause and territory.

Conclusions: Diffusion-weighted imaging is more effective than T2-weighted imaging in patients with acute posterior-circulation strokes. The DWI lesion volume did not significantly correlate with NIHSS score, suggesting that NIHSS is more weighted toward anterior-circulation stroke symptoms.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Acute Disease
  • Brain / pathology
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods*
  • National Institutes of Health (U.S.)*
  • Severity of Illness Index*
  • Stroke / diagnosis*
  • Stroke / physiopathology*
  • United States