Underlying structure of the National Institutes of Health stroke scale: Results of a factor analysis

Patrick Lyden, Mei Lu, Christy Jackson, John Marler, Rashmi Kothari, Thomas Brott, Justin Zivin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

234 Scopus citations


Background and Purpose - No stroke scale has been validated as an outcome measure using data from a clinical trial demonstrating a positive therapeutic effect. Therefore, we proposed to use data from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) tPA Stroke Trial to determine whether the National Institutes of Health Stroke Scale (NIHSS) was valid in patients treated with tissue plasminogen activator (tPA) and to explore the underlying clinimetric structure of the NIHSS. Methods - We performed an exploratory factor analysis of NIHSS data from Part 1 (n=291) of the NINDS tPA Stroke Trial to derive a hypothesized underlying factor structure. We then performed a confirmatory factor analysis of this structure using NIHSS data from Part 2 of the same trial (n=333). We then tested whether this final factor structure could be found in tPA- and placebo- treated patients serially over time after stroke treatment. Using 3-month outcome data, we tested for an association between the NIHSS and other measures of stroke outcome. Results - The exploratory analysis suggested that there were 2 factors underlying the NIHSS, representing left and right brain function, confirming the content validity of the scale. An alternative structure composed of 4 factors could be derived, with a better goodness of fit: the first 2 factors could represent left brain cortical and motor function, respectively, and the second 2 factors could represent right brain cortical and motor function, respectively. The same factor structures were then found in tPA and placebo patient groups studied serially over time, confirming the exploratory analysis. All 3-month clinical outcomes were associated with each other at subsequent time points, confirming predictive validity. Conclusions - This is the first study of the validity of a stroke scale in patients treated with effective stroke therapy. The NIHSS appeared to be valid in patients with acute stroke and for finding treatment-related differences. The scale was valid when used serially over time after stroke, up to 3 months, and showed good agreement with other measures of outcome.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2347-2354
Number of pages8
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 1999


  • Cerebrovascular disorders
  • Clinimetrics
  • Factor analysis, statistical
  • Neuropsychological tests

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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


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