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How to Spot the Symptoms of the Most Common Types of Strokes

May 24, 2018

If you or someone else were having a stroke, would you recognize the symptoms and get help in time?

Stroke is a term used to describe what happens when there is an interruption of blood flow to the brain. When a stroke occurs, it prevents your brain from getting the oxygenated blood it needs to function, causing brain cells to begin dying—almost immediately. So getting help right away is critical.

The latest statistics from the American Heart Association published in the American College of Cardiology show how serious strokes can be. According to their researchers:

  • Stroke accounts for 1 of 20 deaths in the United States
  • It ranks fifth among all causes of death, behind diseases of the heart, cancer, chronic lower respiratory disease, and unintentional injuries/accidents
  • Someone experiences a stroke in the United States every 40 seconds
  • Stroke is now the leading cause of long-term disability in the United States

But no two strokes are alike. Even the two most common types of strokes can have varying symptoms and long-term effects.

Understanding the difference between the most common types of strokes and their symptoms may save your life. So, let’s look at the the most common types, their symptoms, and what you can do to stay safe.

Common Type of Stroke: Ischemic Stroke

The most common type of stroke is ischemic stroke. They account for about 88 percent of all strokes and are caused by clots (fatty deposits) blocking a blood vessel leading to your brain.

These fatty deposits can cause two types of obstruction:

  1. Cerebral thrombosis refers to a blood clot that develops at the clogged part of the vessel.
  2. Cerebral embolism refers to a blood clot that forms at another location in the circulatory system, like the heart, or the upper arteries of the chest and neck. The trouble starts when a piece of the clot breaks loose, enters the bloodstream and ends up in a blood vessel in your brain that is too small to let it pass.

An irregular heartbeat can also cause an embolism. It can cause clots to form in the heart, dislodge and travel to the brain.

Symptoms of Ischemic Stroke

The most common sign of an ischemic stroke is sudden weakness of the face, arm or leg, typically on one side of the body. Other warning signs can include:

  • Confusion, trouble speaking
  • Trouble seeing
  • Trouble walking
  • Severe headache

The symptoms of a stroke depend three things:

  • The side of the brain that’s affected
  • The part of the brain affected
  • How severely the brain is injured

So, each person may have different stroke warning signs.

Ischemic Stroke Treatment

Since Ischemic strokes are the most common type, there are treatment options available. The only FDA approved treatment for ischemic strokes is tissue plasminogen activator, or tPA. It works by dissolving the blood clot and improving blood flow to the part of the brain that’s being deprived.

An endovascular procedure can also be done. It is less invasive than surgery. A specially-trained doctor will insert a catheter into your leg or arm, through a major artery, and remove the clot.

Common Type of Stroke: Hemorrhagic Stroke

The second-most common type of stroke is a Hemorrhagic Stroke. It accounts for 13 percent of all strokes and occurs when a weakened blood vessel ruptures and causes bleeding in the brain.

There are two types of weakened blood vessels that can cause hemorrhagic stroke:

  1. Aneurysm—a ballooning of a weakened region of a blood vessel. If left untreated, the aneurysm continues to weaken until it ruptures and bleeds into the brain.
  2. Arteriovenous malformation (AVM)—a cluster of abnormally formed blood vessels. Any one of these vessels can rupture, also causing bleeding into the brain.

When either one of these events occur blood accumulates and compresses the surrounding brain tissue.

Symptoms of Hemorrhagic Stroke

Like an ischemic stroke, one of the symptoms of a Hemorrhagic Stroke is weakness or numbness on one side of the body. Other signs include:

  • Bleeding
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Difficulty speaking,
  • Fainting,
  • Headache
  • Sensitivity to light

To diagnose and classify your stroke, your doctor will need an imaging test of your brain. A CT or MRI scan will be ordered.

Hemorrhagic Stroke Treatment

A recent study found 60–80% of abdominal aortic aneurysm repairs are now done by endovascular procedures. It works similarly to removing a blood clot, but in this case, a catheter is guided to the aneurysm or AVM, which deposits a mechanical agent, like a coil, to prevent it from rupturing.

Surgery may also be done to stop the bleeding. A metal clip may be placed surgically at the base of the aneurysm to secure it.

Common Type of Stroke: Transient Ischemic Attack

Another common type of stroke is a Transient Ischemic Attack, or TIA. It’s also referred to as “mini stroke” because this is a temporary blockage of blood to the brain. They, too, are caused by a blood clot, but the main difference is that a TIA only lasts a few minutes. The clot gets pushed along, like a temporary clog in a pipe, or chemicals in your body quickly break it down.

Although the blood flow is only blocked for a short time, 1 out of 3 people who suffer a TIA go on to have a full-fledged stroke.

Symptoms of Transient Ischemic Attack

The symptoms are similar to those of an ischemic or hemorrhagic stroke. They include:

  • Weakness on one side of the body
  • Vision problems
  • Slurred speech

The symptoms of a TIA can resolve within a few minutes or take a few hours.

TIA Treatment

Treatment includes medication, surgery and healthy lifestyle changes. Eating a Mediterranean-style diet higher in nuts and olive oil is associated with a reduced risk of stroke.

Other Causes of Stroke

One not-so-common cause of stroke that is worth noting is called a carotid artery dissection. It’s caused by a sudden tear in the artery wall. The tear allows blood flow to separate the artery wall layers, narrowing the artery enough to slow blood flow. The tears are caused by things like:

  • Car accidents
  • Sports injuries
  • Lifting heavy objects

They can also happen spontaneously, meaning there is no blunt force or trauma, and are the most common cause of stroke in younger individuals with few or no risk factors. More than half the people who experience a spontaneous carotid artery dissection develop ischemic stroke. But it could take hours, or even days, before symptoms develop. Medication, and in some cases, surgery is needed to treat it.

Stroke Acronym to Remember

There is a stroke acronym you can use to help you recognize the symptoms of a stroke. All you have to do is think F.AS.T.

  • Face—a drooping face
  • Arm—if one arm drifts downward
  • Speech—slurred speech
  • Time—don’t waste time, call 911 immediately

Think of it like this: time is brain. The faster you can get someone the help they need, the more you’ll decrease the risk for long-term damage.

Preventing Common Types of Stroke

The good news is that 80 percent of all strokes are preventable. It starts with managing key risk factors, including:

  • High blood pressure
  • Cigarette smoking
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Physical inactivity

More than half of all strokes are caused by high blood pressure, making it the most important risk factor to control.

Strokes aren’t the only health-related concern you should be educating yourself about as you age. Our guide “The Most Concerning Health Issues for Older Adults” will list some others and help you to decrease your risk. Download it today.

Older Adult Health Issues