Stroke is a brain injury caused by an interruption in blood flow. Brain tissue that does not get oxygen and nutrients from blood can die within minutes. The damage to the brain can cause a sudden loss in bodily functions. The types of function that are affected will depend on the part of the brain that is damaged.
There are 2 blood flow problems that cause a stroke. Strokes may be ischemic or hemorrhagic.
Hemorrhagic vs. Ischemic Stroke
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An ischemic stroke occurs when something stops the flow of blood. It may be a buildup or swelling of the walls of the blood vessels and/or something in the blood that becomes stuck in the blood vessel. A blockage in a small blood vessel will affect a smaller area of the brain. A blockage in larger blood vessels can block the flow of blood to several smaller blood vessels, leading to more brain damage.
The blockage may be the result of one or more of the following:
Certain factors increase your risk of stroke but can not be changed, such as:
Other factors that may increase your risk can be changed, such as:
Certain medical condition that can increase your risk of stroke. Management or prevention of these conditions can significantly decrease your risk. Medical conditions include:
Risk factors specific to women include:
Symptoms occur suddenly. Exact symptoms will depend on the part of the brain affected. Rapid treatment is important to decrease the amount of brain damage. Brain tissue without blood flow dies quickly.
Call for emergency medical services right away if you notice any of the following sudden symptoms:
A physical exam will be done to look for muscle weakness, visual and speech problems, and movement difficulty. If possible, you will be asked about your symptoms and medical history.
Images may be taken of your bodily structures. This can be done with:
Blood tests can also help determine if there is a bleeding problem.
Immediate treatment is needed to open the blocked blood vessel. This should restore blood flow to the brain tissue and stop further damage.
Treatment after immediate care will aim to:
Supportive care may also include:
Certain patients will receive a group of drugs called thrombolytics. These medications can rapidly dissolve blood clots. They are often given by IV, but can be delivered directly to the arteries where the blood clot is. These medications need to be given within hours after the start of symptoms to be effective. That is why it is important to get medical help right away if stroke symptoms develop.
Aspirin and other medications that decrease the risk of blood clot formation may be recommended after immediate care is done. These medications may prevent future strokes from occurring.
To help manage other health issues and decrease the risk of future strokes the doctor may recommend medication to:
An embolectomy may be done to help blood flow back into the affected area. A catheter is threaded through blood vessels to the clot. The clot may be removed or clot-dissolving medication is passed directly to the area.
A decompressive surgery, such as craniotomy, may be needed to relieve the pressure in the brain to prevent damage. Other surgeries may be performed following a stroke to prevent a recurrence. Options include:
If brain tissue was damaged, rehabilitation can be an important part of your recovery. Rehabilitation may include:
Many of the risk factors for stroke can be changed. Lifestyle changes that can help reduce your chance of getting a stroke include:
American Heart Association
National Stroke Association
Heart and Stroke Foundation
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Last reviewed November 2017 by
EBSCO Medical Review Board Rimas Lukas, MD
Last Updated: 11/20/2017
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