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What causes a stroke?

A stroke occurs when there is a sudden loss of blood flow to the brain due to a blood vessel blockage or rupture. The loss of blood deprives brain cells of oxygen, and they begin to die. When brain cells die, the bodily functions they control are impaired or lost. Broadly speaking, there are two types of stroke: ischemic stroke and hemorrhagic stroke.

  • Ischemic stroke occurs when fatty deposits build up inside a blood vessel that supplies blood to the brain and cause a blockage.
  • Hemorrhagic stroke occurs when a blood vessel leaks or ruptures, and the leaked blood compresses and damages brain cells.

When blood flow to the brain is blocked for a short period of time, usually no more than five minutes, it causes a transient ischemic attack (TIA), sometimes called a “mini stroke.” While there is usually no permanent injury to the brain following a TIA, it is a warning sign that a major stroke may occur.

Stroke Symptoms

Stroke symptoms are usually sudden and can vary depending on the part of the brain that is affected. Common symptoms include:

  • Sudden, severe headache
  • Paralysis or weakness on one side of the body
  • Numbness or tingling
  • Difficulty speaking or understanding
  • Vision problems
  • Dizziness or vertigo

Call 9-1-1 immediately if you think you are having a stroke or TIA.

Stroke Treatment

If appropriate medical care is received within the first three hours of the onset of symptoms, the impact of the stroke can be minimized.

Treatment for Ischemic Stroke

  • Thrombolytic therapy during the first three hours after a stroke, a substance called tissue plasminogen activator (tPA) is administered through an IV to dissolve the blood clot and restore blood flow to the brain.

Treatment for Hemorrhagic Stroke

  • Surgery may be needed to remove blood from the brain and to place a temporary drainage catheter to reduce pressure within the brain.
    • If the bleeding is caused by a ruptured aneurysm, a metal clip may be put in place to stop blood loss.
  • Endovascular procedures are less invasive than surgical treatments. They involve inserting a tube through a major artery in the leg or arm and guiding it to the weak spot or break in a blood vessel. The tube is then used to install a device to repair the damage and prevent further bleeding.

Neuro-Rehabilitation for Stroke

Neuro-rehabilitation programs can help you regain some of the abilities you had before a stroke.

At Barrow Neurological Institute at Dignity Health St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center, our team of stroke rehabilitation specialists includes:

  • Rehabilitation physicians
  • Neuropsychologists
  • Nurses
  • Physical, occupational, speech and language, and recreational therapists

Additional Information

How common are strokes?

Stroke is the leading cause of serious long-term disability and the fifth leading cause of death in the United States. More than 795,000 Americans suffer a stroke each year, and of that number nearly 130,000 people do not survive. On average, one American dies from a stroke every four minutes.

Ischemic strokes account for about 87 percent of all stroke cases.

Who gets strokes?

The risk of having a stroke increases with age, but anyone can have a stroke at any age.

While men are more likely to have a stroke than women, women are more likely to suffer a fatal stroke. Pregnancy and the use of birth control pills pose special stroke risks for women.

The risk of having a first stroke is nearly twice as high for blacks than for whites.

Other risk factors include a previous stroke or TIA, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease, diabetes, and sickle cell disease.

How are strokes diagnosed?

If you have symptoms of a stroke or TIA, your doctor may do the following to reach a diagnosis:

  • Review of your medical history
  • Conduct a physical and neurological examination
  • Have blood tests done
  • Have imaging tests done

Our stroke center team is equipped to perform a full range of diagnostic tests to determine the exact cause of a stroke. Common diagnostic tests include:

  • Carotid ultrasound
  • Transcranial doppler (TCD) ultrasonography transesophageal echocardiography
  • Computed tomography (CT)
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
  • Magnetic resonance angiography (MRA)
  • Cerebral angiography
  • Electroencephalogram (EEG)
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More than 795,000 Americans suffer a stroke each year.
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Ischemic strokes account for about 87 percent of all stroke cases.

Request an Appointment with a Stroke Specialist