Spiral scan sees stroke blockage more clearly

DALLAS, April 5 The accuracy of diagnosing a blocked brain vessel in an emergency setting improved nearly 100 percent when physicians used a high-speed CT scanner, researchers report in todays Stroke: Journal of the American Heart Association.

Physicians working in emergency rooms typically do a physical examination of stroke patients, including a standard CT scan of the head. They also ask them or their families a series of questions about symptoms to assess the location and nature of the stroke. A standard CT scan can quickly determine whether the stroke is ischemic or hemorrhagic.

However, high-speed helical CT scans (sometimes called spiral CT), which use a contrast dye, give physicians a view of blood flow inside vessels and the pattern of blood distribution throughout the brain. Helical scanners also allow them to quickly determine if a stroke is ischemic and find where a blockage exists, says study author Michael H. Lev, M.D. The scan can also show the doctor if the vessel is partially or completely blocked, and can show which areas of the brain are not getting enough blood.

The bottom line is that this is a convenient, cost-effective, minimally invasive way to rapidly get more information that can help acute stroke patients, says Lev. Most emergency departments in the U.S. have a CT scanner, and the majority are helical scanners. Our study shows they can be used for the brain.

Information from these scans could help physicians assess how best to treat ischemic stroke patients. It may turn out that the patient isnt having a stroke at all, as happened with four of our patients, says Lev, who is director of the neurovascular laboratory at Massachusetts General Hospital and an assistant professor of radiology at Harvard Medical School in Boston. It may be a seizure, a migraine headache, or a drastic drop in blood sugar mimicking a stroke.

About 600,000 Americans suffer a first or recurrent stroke each year and about 167

Contact: Carole Bullock
American Heart Association

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