What is a physical and neurological exam?
The first step in the diagnosis and treatment of a suspected stroke is a simple examination to evaluate your symptoms and general health. Your symptoms can provide clues about the cause, location, and size of the stroke; your general health may influence what tests and treatments you should receive.
The basic stroke examination can be started by an emergency medical technician (EMT) in the ambulance on the way to the hospital, and continues with your doctor when you arrive at the emergency room.1, 2 A typical examination for suspected stroke consists of:
- A physical examination: The physical exam's most important components are your vital signs, your appearance, and your mental status, all of which indicate if you have had a stroke and if you are stable enough to get a CT scan.
- A medical history: Your medical history catalogues your stroke symptoms and when they appeared and any other medical conditions you have. How long ago your symptoms started is part of determining whether you are eligible for first-choice treatment with tPA within 3 hours;2 other medical conditions may have contributed to your stroke or affect your stroke treatment options.
- A neurological examination: The neurological exam is a series of questions and physical and mental tests that evaluate how your nervous system (including the brain) is working. By testing these functions, the doctor can establish if and how your brain has been affected by a stroke and determine which diagnostic tests are necessary.