Techniques of investigation of acute stroke syndromes have progressed rapidly in recent years, outpacing developments in effective stroke treatment. The clinician is thus faced with a variety of tests, each with different cost implications and each altering management to a greater or lesser extent. This review will concentrate on the basic tests which should be performed for all strokes (full blood count, ESR, biochemical screen, blood glucose, cholesterol, syphilis serology, chest X-ray and electrocardiogram). Additional tests may be required in selected cases: CT scan to diagnose 'non-stroke' lesions, to exclude cerebral haemorrhage if anti-haemostatic therapy is planned, and to detect strokes which may require emergency intervention (such as cerebellar stroke with hydrocephalus); echocardiography to detect cardiac sources of emboli; and in a few cases lumbar puncture and specialized haematological tests. Other tests, which are currently research tools, may be suitable for widespread use in the future including NMR, SPECT and PET scanning.