Stroke

  • Medical Author:
    Benjamin Wedro, MD, FACEP, FAAEM

    Dr. Ben Wedro practices emergency medicine at Gundersen Clinic, a regional trauma center in La Crosse, Wisconsin. His background includes undergraduate and medical studies at the University of Alberta, a Family Practice internship at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario and residency training in Emergency Medicine at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center.

  • Medical Editor: Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD
    Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD

    Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD

    Dr. Charles "Pat" Davis, MD, PhD, is a board certified Emergency Medicine doctor who currently practices as a consultant and staff member for hospitals. He has a PhD in Microbiology (UT at Austin), and the MD (Univ. Texas Medical Branch, Galveston). He is a Clinical Professor (retired) in the Division of Emergency Medicine, UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, and has been the Chief of Emergency Medicine at UT Medical Branch and at UTHSCSA with over 250 publications.

View Understanding Stroke Slideshow Pictures

Stroke Symptoms and Signs

The symptoms of a stroke vary depending upon the area of the brain affected by a lack of oxygen. All strokes involve symptoms that relate to impairment of nerve function. The symptoms typically arise suddenly and most commonly occur on one side of the body. Symptoms and signs of stroke can include:

  • numbness,
  • weakness,
  • tingling, or
  • vision loss or changes.

Confusion, changes in the level of consciousness, trouble speaking, trouble understanding speech, vertigo, and balance problems are other common symptoms. Headache, nausea, and vomiting sometimes accompany a stroke, particularly when the stroke involves bleeding inside the brain.

Quick GuideStroke Pictures Slideshow: A Visual Guide to Understanding Stroke

Stroke Pictures Slideshow: A Visual Guide to Understanding Stroke

Stroke facts

  • A stroke occurs when part of the brain loses its blood supply and stops working. This causes the part of the body that it controls to stop working as well.
  • A stroke is also called a cerebrovascular accident or CVA.
  • Ischemic strokes occur when a blood vessels becomes occluded. This may be due to a gradual narrowing or because of a blood clot that travels through the bloodstream or embolizes to stop blood flow.
  • A hemorrhagic stroke describes brain tissue that is damaged because of bleeding, most often because of uncontrolled high blood pressure.
  • A stroke is a medical emergency. The patient or family needs to call 9-1-1 (activate EMS) to access emergency care.
  • From onset of symptoms, there is only a 3 to 4 1/2 hour window to use clot-busting drugs (thrombolytics) to try to restore blood supply to the affected part of the brain.
  • Remember FAST: Face drooping, Arm weakness, Speech difficulty, Time to call 9-1-1.
  • A transient ischemic attack or a TIA, describes a stroke that resolves usually within minutes but may take up to 24 hours. This is a warning sign that a stroke may occur in the near future.
  • People at risk for stroke include those who have high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, and those who smoke. People with heart rhythm disturbances, especially atrial fibrillation are also at risk.

What is a stroke?

A stroke, also known as a cerebrovascular accident or CVA, occurs when part of the brain loses its blood supply and the part of the body that the blood-deprived brain cells control stops working. This loss of blood supply can be ischemic because of lack of blood flow, or hemorrhagic because of bleeding into brain tissue. A stroke is a medical emergency because strokes can lead to death or permanent disability. There are opportunities to treat ischemic strokes but that treatment needs to be started in the first few hours after the signs of a stroke begin. The patient, family, or bystanders, should call 9-1-1 and activate emergency medical services immediately should a stroke be suspected.

A transient ischemic attack (TIA or mini-stroke) describes an ischemic stroke that is short-lived where the symptoms resolve spontaneously. This situation also requires emergency assessment to try to minimize the risk of a future stroke. By definition, a stroke would be classified as a TIA if all symptoms resolved within 24 hours.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 2/18/2016
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