Imaging of acute ischemic stroke

Eur Neurol. 2014;72(5-6):309-16. doi: 10.1159/000362719. Epub 2014 Oct 14.


Background: Over 80% of strokes result from ischemic damage to the brain due to an acute reduction in the blood supply. Around 25-35% of strokes present with large vessel occlusion, and the patients in this category often present with severe neurological deficits. Without early treatment, the prognosis is poor. Stroke imaging is critical for assessing the extent of tissue damage and for guiding treatment.

Summary: This review focuses on the imaging techniques used in the diagnosis and treatment of acute ischemic stroke, with an emphasis on those involving the anterior circulation. Key Message: Effective and standardized imaging protocols are necessary for clinical decision making and for the proper design of prospective studies on acute stroke.

Clinical implications: Each minute without treatment spells the loss of an estimated 1.8 million neurons ('time is brain'). Therefore, stroke imaging must be performed in a fast and efficient manner. First, intracranial hemorrhage and stroke mimics should be excluded by the use of computed tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). The next key step is to define the extent and location of the infarct core (values of >70 ml, >1/3 of the middle cerebral artery (MCA) territory or an ASPECTS score ≤ 7 indicate poor clinical outcome). Penumbral imaging is currently based on the mismatch concept. It should be noted that the penumbra is a dynamic zone and can be sustained in the presence of good collateral circulation. A thrombus length of >8 mm predicts poor recanalization after intravenous thrombolysis.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Brain / blood supply
  • Brain / pathology*
  • Brain / physiopathology
  • Brain Ischemia / diagnosis
  • Brain Ischemia / pathology*
  • Brain Ischemia / physiopathology
  • Humans
  • Neuroimaging / methods*
  • Neuroimaging / standards
  • Stroke / diagnosis
  • Stroke / pathology*
  • Stroke / physiopathology