We performed diffusion-weighted MRI (DWI) on a standard 1.5-tesla MRI scanner using a high-speed stimulated echo pulse sequence (turboSTEAM) in 9 stroke patients and 9 control subjects to investigate whether this technique can be used clinically to assist in ischaemic stroke diagnosis within the time frame for potential therapy. Stroke patients underwent DWI between 3.75 h and 3 days after stroke onset. Three patients were studied on more than one occasion. DWI was normal in the 9 controls. Seven of 9 stroke patients showed areas of increased signal on DWI. DWI detected cerebral ischaemia 3.75 h after stroke onset when both CT and T2-weighted MRI were normal. In 6 DWI-positive patients studied at later times, increased signal on T2-weighted images was present at the same time. Two patients had normal CT, T2-weighted and DWI images; both made good neurological recoveries. For the routine assessment of stroke patients, DWI implemented on a standard MRI system can provide additional information of clinical value to that obtained with conventional pulse sequences. In particular it facilitates early detection of cerebral ischaemia during the first few hours after stroke.