Diffusion-weighted imaging (DWI) detects small changes in water diffusion that occur in ischemic brain. This study evaluated the clinical usefulness of a phase-navigated spin-echo DWI sequence compared with T2-weighted magnetic resonance imaging (T2W MRI) in patients with cerebral ischemia and assessed apparent diffusion coefficient (ADC) and T2-weighted imaging (T2WI) changes over time. ADC values and T2 ratios of image intensity were measured from the region of ischemia and from the corresponding contralateral brain region. The clinical histories of patients with DWI scans obtained over the course of 1 year were reviewed to ascertain whether DWI aided in clinical diagnosis or management. Of 103 scans obtained a mean of 10.4 days after symptom onset, DWI detected six lesions not seen on T2WI and discriminated two new infarcts from old lesions. DWI was most useful within 48 hours of the ictus. The evolution of ADC values and T2 ratios was evaluated in 26 cases with known symptom onset times. ADC values were low at less than 1 week after stroke onset and became elevated at chronic time points. T2 ratios were near normal acutely, increasing thereafter. DWI was superior to T2W MRI in detecting acute stroke, whereas both techniques assisted in determining lesion age.