Agreement and variability in the interpretation of early CT changes in stroke patients qualifying for intravenous rtPA therapy

James C. Grotta, David Chiu, Mei Lu, Suresh Patel, Steven R. Levine, Barbara C. Tilley, Thomas G. Brott, E. Clarke Haley, Patrick D. Lyden, Rashmi Kothari, Michael Frankel, Christopher A. Lewandowski, Richard Libman, Thomas Kwiatkowski, Joseph P. Broderick, John R. Marler, John Corrigan, Stephen Huff, Panayiotis Mitsias, Sanjay TalatiDavid Tanne

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

219 Scopus citations


Background and Purpose - Ischemic changes identified on CT scans performed in the first few hours after stroke onset, which are thought to possibly represent early cytotoxic edema and development of irreversible injury, may have important implications for subsequent treatment. However, insecurity and conflicting data exist over the ability of clinicians to correctly recognize and interpret these changes. We performed a detailed review of selected baseline CT scans from the NINDS rt-PA Stroke Trial to test agreement among experienced stroke specialists and other physicians on the presence of early CT ischemic changes. Methods - Seventy baseline CT scans from the NINDS Stroke Trial were read and classified for the presence or absence of various early findings of ischemia by 16 individuals, including NINDS trial investigators, other neurologists, other emergency medicine physicians, and radiology or stroke fellows. CT scans included normal scans and scans from patients who later developed symptomatic intracranial hemorrhage; as well as scans on which the NINDS rt-PA Stroke Trial neuroradiologist identified clear-cut early CT changes. For each CT finding, κ-statistics were used to assess the proportion of agreement beyond chance. Results - κ-Values (95% confidence interval [CI]) ranged from 0.20 (-0.20, 0.61) (fair agreement) to 0.41 (0.37, 0.45) (moderate agreement) among the 16 viewers, and the κ-value was only 0.39 (0.29, 0.49) (fair) in answer to the question 'do early CT changes involve more than one third of the MCA [middle cerebral artery] territory?' There was substantial variability within each specialty group and between groups. κ-Values were only fair to moderate even among physicians experienced in selecting and treating acute stroke patients with rtPA. Observed agreement ranged from 68% to 85%. Physicians agreed on the finding of early CT changes involving >33% of the MCA territory 77% of the time, although the κ-value of 0.39 suggested only moderate agreement beyond chance. Conclusions - There is considerable lack of agreement, even among experienced clinicians, in recognizing and quantifying early CT changes. Improved methods of recognizing and quantifying early ischemic brain damage are needed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1528-1533
Number of pages6
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 1999


  • Cerebral infarction
  • Emission-computed
  • Statistics
  • Stroke
  • Tissue plasminogen activator
  • Tomography

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Neurology
  • Cardiology and Cardiovascular Medicine
  • Advanced and Specialized Nursing


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