(Cerebrovascular Accident; CVA; Cerebral Infarct)
by Cynthia M. Johnson, MA
A stroke happens when blood supply to an area of the brain is stopped. Medical care is needed right away. Cells in the brain die if they are without oxygen for more than a few minutes.
There are two main types of stroke:
An ischemic stroke is caused by a blockage in blood vessels of the brain. This may be caused by:
This problem is more common in older adults and people with a family history of stroke. Health issues that can increase the risk of stroke are:
Habits that can increase the risk of stroke are:
Symptoms occur suddenly. Some problems may be:
Note: These are signs of an emergency. Call for medical help if you are having signs of a stroke.
A stroke needs to be diagnosed quickly. The doctor will look for signs of nerve or brain problems. Blood tests may be done to look for clotting problems.
Images of the brain and blood flow can be taken with:
The heart will also be checked with:
Emergency care will be needed. The goal is to break up the clot and restore blood flow as quickly as possible. Restoring blood flow will halt more damage to the brain. The clot may be broken up or removed with medicine or procedure.
A medicine called tPA can quickly dissolve blood clots. It will restore blood flow and increase the chance of a full recovery. The treatment needs to be given within 3 to 4 hours of the start of stroke symptoms. This is why it is important to get medical care as soon as symptoms start.
Medicine called blood thinners may also be given. It can stop new clots and slow or stop the growth of clots that are already there.
Endovascular procedures can deliver treatment straight to the area. It may be needed for clots that are large, block a large area, or don't respond to medicine. A catheter (tube) is passed through blood vessels until it reaches the blocked artery. Once there the doctor may:
Early treatment can prevent long term problems. A treatment plan will be made to prevent future strokes.
Damage caused by the stroke cannot be reversed. Long term effects will depend where the brain injury happened and how much was damaged. Therapy may be needed to regain skills or adapt to changes. Rehabilitation may include:
The risk of stroke can be lowered by:
American Heart Association
National Stroke Association
Heart and Stroke Foundation
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Stroke (acute management). EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/management/stroke-acute-management-1. Accessed January 12, 2021.
1/18/2017 DynaMed Systematic Literature Surveillance https://www.dynamed.com/prevention/cardiovascular-disease-possible-risk-factors: Emdin CA, Odutayo A, Wet al. Meta-analysis of anxiety as a risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Am J Cardiol. 2016;118(4):511-519.
Last reviewed January 2021 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Rimas Lukas, MD
Last Updated: 1/27/2021