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 changes will depend on the part of the brain that is damaged.
Two blood flow problems can cause a stroke:
A hemorrhagic stroke is caused by a ruptured blood vessel. It may be:
- Intracerebral hemorrhage—bleeding in the brain
- Subarachnoid hemorrhage —bleeding in the tissue around the brain
- An ischemic stroke is caused by a blocked blood vessel.
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A hemorrhagic stroke happens because of a weakened blood vessel in the brain. Blood vessels may be weakened by:
Factors that may increase your chance of stroke include:
- Gender: Men are more likely to have a stroke than women
- Age: 55 years of age or older
- Family history of stroke
Factors that can raise your risk of hemorrhagic stroke include:
Symptoms will depend on the part of the brain affected. Rapid treatment is important to decrease the amount of brain damage. Call for emergency medical services right away if you have:
- Sudden weakness or numbness of face, arm, or leg, especially on one side of the body
- Sudden confusion
- Sudden trouble speaking or understanding
- Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes
- Sudden lightheadedness, trouble walking, loss of balance, or clumsiness
- Sudden severe headache with no known cause
- Loss of consciousness
Other symptoms that may go along with the above symptoms include:
- Neck stiffness
- Nausea or vomiting
- Sensitivity to light
A physical exam will be done. The doctor will look for muscle weakness, visual and speech problems. If possible, the doctor will ask about symptoms and past health. A CT scan may be done to confirm the diagnosis.
Images of blood vessels will help to find the cause of the bleeding. Image tests may include:
Blood tests will also be done. Tests will show how well the blood can clot. Your doctor may also examine the fluid that surrounds your brain and spine.
Brain tissue without blood flow dies quickly. Immediate treatment is needed to stop the bleeding and restore restore blood flow to the brain. Blood spilled in the brain is also trapped in the skull. It can build and put pressure on the brain. That pressure may need to be relieved.
Medicine can be given to help the blood clot. This may also include vitamin K. Medicine can also help to:
- Decrease pressure in the brain
- Prevent seizures
- Lower blood pressure
Surgery may be done to help stop the bleeding. Some may be done through blood vessels. A tube is placed into blood vessels of the groin and passed to the vessels in the brain. Next steps will depend on the cause and site of the bleeding:
- For a burst aneurysm—A clip may be placed just before the damaged vessel. It should stop the bleeding.
- For a leaking or aneurysm that has not burst—A special coil or clip may be placed in the weak area. The coil will help a clot to form over the area. It will prevent bleeding.
- For an abnormal tangle of blood vessels—Surgery may be done to repair the blood vessels. It may be able to remove the tangles or reroute the blood around the area.
The stroke and damaged tissue can cause swelling in the brain. Surgery may be needed to relieve the pressure. One common option is to remove a section of the skull. This is called a craniotomy.
Recovery will depend on the amount of brain damage. Rehabilitation may include:
- Physical therapy—to regain as much movement as possible
- Occupational therapy—to assist in everyday tasks and self-care
- Speech therapy—to improve swallowing and speech challenges
- Psychological therapy —to improve mood and decrease depression
Manage and monitor medical issues. This includes aneurysms and high blood pressure. Other habits that may reduce the risk of stroke include:
- Regular exercise.
- Well balanced diet with plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
- Quit smoking.
- Maintain a healthy weight.
- Limit alcohol. This means no more than 2 drinks per day for men and 1 drink per day for women.
- Do not use recreational drugs, such as cocaine.
American Heart Association
National Stroke Association
Heart & Stroke Foundation
Public Health Agency of Canada
Intracerebral hemorrhage. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/intracerebral-hemorrhage. Accessed October 25, 2020.
Stroke (acute management). EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/management/stroke-acute-management/. Accessed October 25, 2020.
Stroke treatments. American Heart Association American Stroke Association website. Available at: http://www.strokeassociation.org/STROKEORG/AboutStroke/Treatment/Stroke-Treatments_UCM_310892_Article.jsp#.VzOxrE2FPIU. Accessed October 25, 2020.
Subarachnoid hemorrhage. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/subarachnoid-hemorrhage. Accessed October 25, 2020.
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Last reviewed May 2020 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Rimas Lukas, MD Last Updated: 10/25/2020