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Brain Stroke

Last updated May 16, 2018

Approved by: Maulik P. Purohit MD, MPH

What are the other Names for this Condition? (Also known as/Synonyms)

  • Brain Attack causing stroke
  • Cerebrovascular Disease causing stroke
  • Cerebral Hemorrhage

What is Brain Stroke? (Definition/Background Information)

  • A brain stroke is a medical condition that occurs when blood supply to the brain is reduced or blocked, resulting in oxygen deprivation to the brain tissue. When oxygen levels are severely depleted, brain cells begin to die and result in the symptoms of a stroke.
  • When brain cells die, the functions that are controlled by that area of the brain are lost. Usually, the first abilities that are lost are speech, movement, and memory. The severity of damage depends on where in the brain the stroke originated and how much of the brain was damaged.
  • Two major categories of brain stroke exist: those caused by blood blockages (ischemic) and those caused by bleeding into the brain (hemorrhagic).

Who gets Brain Stroke? (Age and Sex Distribution)

  • Brain strokes can occur in males and females. Men are 25% more likely to suffer from strokes than women. 
  • Strokes can occur in people of all ages. However, as people get older, their risk of suffering from a stroke increases.
  • Studies have found that 95% of all strokes occur in people over the age of 45 years and 65% of all strokes occur in people over the age of 65 years.

What are the Risk Factors for Brain Stroke? (Predisposing Factors) 

Common risk factors of brain strokes include:

  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Diabetes
  • Smoking
  • Heavy alcohol consumption
  • Obesity
  • Any cardiovascular diseases (heart failure, heart defects, abnormal heart rate)
  • Family history
  • Age (individuals over the age of 45 years are at the highest risk)
  • Race (African Americans are at a higher risk of suffering from a stroke)
  • Gender (males have a higher risk of strokes than females)

What are the Causes of Brain Stroke? (Etiology)

  • Brain strokes occur when the flow of blood to the brain is reduced or blocked. A lack of blood flow to the brain deprives the brain of oxygen. When brain cells do not receive oxygen, they begin to die, resulting in a loss of function in that area of the brain.
  • Ischemic brain strokes are caused by blood blockages to the brain. This accounts for 85% of strokes. Ischemic strokes occur when the arteries to the brain narrow or become blocked, reducing blood flow to the area. Usually, a blood clot, fatty deposits, or other debris bloods the arteries.
  • Hemorrhagic strokes occur when blood vessels rupture or begin to leak into the brain. When this happens, blood seeps into the brain tissue and damages the brain cells. Typically, these strokes are caused by high blood pressure or aneurysms, blood of which damage blood vessels.   

What are the Signs and Symptoms of Brain Stroke?

Common signs and symptoms of brain strokes include:

  • Difficulty walking
  • Dizziness
  • Loss of coordination
  • Lack of balance
  • Speech problems (slurred words, incoherent speech)
  • Paralysis/numbness, typically worse on one side of the body than the other
  • Vision problems
  • Headache
  • Personality/mood changes

Usually, these symptoms develop suddenly and without any warning. It is important to seek immediate medical treatment if any of these signs unexpectedly arise in order to minimize brain damage.

How is Brain Stroke Diagnosed?

  • Brain strokes are usually diagnosed based on symptoms and a physical examination. During the physical examination, your doctor will check your blood pressure and listen to your heart. They will also gather a medical history.
  • A CT scan or an MRI is the most effective test to diagnose a brain stroke. It can image the brain and show if a hemorrhaging is present, if a tumor is obstructing a blood pathway, etc.
  • Cerebral angiogram highlights the blood vessels in the brain
  • An ophthalmoscope can also be used to make a diagnosis. It is used to check for small cholesterol crystals in the blood vessels and in the back of the eyes. If crystals are found, a stroke is likely occurring.
  • Your doctor will also ask for a blood test. These tests will gather information on how quickly your blood clots, whether your blood sugar levels are abnormal, and if your blood chemicals are at proper levels.

Many clinical conditions may have similar signs and symptoms. Your healthcare provider may perform additional tests to rule out other clinical conditions to arrive at a definitive diagnosis.

What are the possible Complications of Brain Stroke?

  • Brain strokes can often cause permanent damage to the body.
  • Paralysis is the most common complication that arises from strokes. When too little oxygen reaches certain parts of the brain, those brain cells die and the function they controlled is lost. This often results in paralysis and/or loss of muscle function. This can often be severe, resulting in difficulties walking, eating, getting dressed, etc.
  • Talking, swallowing, and other mouth controls may also be lost due to stroke. People can experience slurred speech, incoherent speech, and difficulty reading or writing.
  • Memory loss is also common amongst stroke patients. The parts of the brain that were oxygen deprived could have controlled memory, and when they got damaged, memory loss occurred.

How is Brain Stroke Treated?

  • Treatment for brain strokes varies depending on if an ischemic stroke or hemorrhagic stroke has occurred. Once the type of stroke has been determined, treatment can be administered.
  • To treat an ischemic stroke:
    • Thrombolytics (clot-breaking or blood thinning drugs) - these drugs are most effective if administered within 4.5 hours
    • Tissue plasminogen activator (TPA) - this is a drug that dissolves blood clots; administered intravenously
    • Mechanical brain clot removal using a catheter
    • Carotid endarterectomy - surgery that removes fatty plaque deposits from the carotid arteries
  • To treat an ischemic stroke:
    • Medications to prevent blood clots (Coumadin, Plavix)
    • Surgery to repair ruptured blood vessels
  • Treatment must be continued after a stroke has occurred. This helps people regain their strength and function so that they can return to their normal life. This often involves medications, physical therapy, and speech therapy.

How can Brain Stroke be Prevented?

  • The most effective way of preventing a brain stroke is by controlling your risk factors.
  • It is important to take measures to control high blood pressure. This involves regular exercise, managing stress, limiting sodium intake, limiting alcohol consumption, and consuming more potassium.
  • Lowering your cholesterol is another preventative measure that can be taken against strokes. A diet low in saturated and trans fats is important, though your doctor may also prescribe medications to further help you.
  • It is also important to stop smoking, as it will improve your lung and artery quality.
  • Preventative medications also exist to reduce your risk of brain stroke.
    • Anti-platelet drugs help make blood cells less sticky so that they will not clot
    • Anticoagulants are blood thinners that help reduce blood clotting 

What is the Prognosis of Brain Stroke? (Outcomes/Resolutions)

  • The outlook of a brain stroke depends on the type of stroke that occurred, the extent of brain damage, and how quickly treatment was received.
  • Most people receive treatment quickly enough that over the course of months or years, they are able to restore most of the body function and resume their day-to-day activities.
  • Over half of people who suffer from a stroke are able to improve so much that they can resume their lives at home without other people helping care for them.
  • People who have suffered from an ischemic stroke have a higher chance of surviving than those who have had a hemorrhagic stroke.

Additional and Relevant Useful Information for Brain Stroke:

The following DoveMed website link is a useful resource for additional information:


What are some Useful Resources for Additional Information?

References and Information Sources used for the Article:

Helpful Peer-Reviewed Medical Articles:

Reviewed and Approved by a member of the DoveMed Editorial Board
First uploaded: Sept. 3, 2013
Last updated: May 16, 2018