Picturing the Size and Site of Stroke With an Expanded National Institutes of Health Stroke Scale

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Background and Purpose—

The National Institutes of Health Stroke Scale (NIHSS) includes minimal assessment of cognitive function, particularly in right hemisphere (RH) stroke. Descriptions of the Cookie Theft picture from the NIHSS allow analyses that (1) correlate with aphasia severity and (2) identify communication deficits in RH stroke. We hypothesized that analysis of the picture description contributes valuable information about volume and location of acute stroke.


We evaluated 67 patients with acute ischemic stroke (34 left hemisphere [LH]; 33 RH) with the NIHSS, analysis of the Cookie Theft picture, and magnetic resonance imaging, compared with 35 sex- and age-matched controls. We evaluated descriptions for total content units (CU), syllables, ratio of left:right CU, CU/minute, and percent interpretive CU, based on previous studies. Lesion volume and percent damage to regions of interest were measured on diffusion-weighted imaging. Multivariable linear regression identified variables associated with infarct volume, independently of NIHSS score, age and sex.


Patients with RH and LH stroke differed from controls, but not from each other, on CU, syllables/CU, and CU/minute. Left:right CU was lower in RH compared with LH stroke. CU, syllables/CU, and NIHSS each correlated with lesion volume in LH and RH stroke. Lesion volume was best accounted by a model that included CU, syllables/CU, NIHSS, left:right CU, percent interpretive CU, and age, in LH and RH stroke. Each discourse variable and NIHSS score were associated with percent damage to different regions of interest, independently of lesion volume and age.


Brief picture description analysis complements NIHSS scores in predicting stroke volume and location.

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