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Types of Stroke

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Dr. Daniel Gibson

Director of Neurointerventional Surgery

Ascension Wisconsin

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Having a stroke is a medical emergency that requires immediate medical attention. But there’s more than one kind of stroke and the one you have determines the type of treatment you’ll need.

There are three main types of stroke: ischemic stroke, hemorrhagic stroke and transient ischemic attack.

Ischemic Stroke – These account for nearly 90 percent of strokes. Just as pipes in your house may become clogged, ischemic strokes occur when there is a blockage in one of the arteries supplying the brain. This can be caused by atherosclerotic plaque that develops over the years, similar to heart disease. However, unlike the heart, the brain is also susceptible to clots that form elsewhere in the body and enter the circulation before becoming lodged inside one of the intracranial arteries. Called thromboembolic strokes, these clots can originate inside the heart, legs, or neck. Even minor injury to the neck can result in a tear in the carotid or vertebral arteries, causing a clot to form inside the wall of the vessel that can break off or even shut down flow entirely.

Hemorrhagic Stroke – If an ischemic stroke is like a clogged pipe, a hemorrhagic stroke is akin to a burst pipe inside the brain. Patients commonly complain of having the worst headache of their life. Smaller hemorrhages can have similar symptoms to an ischemic stroke. A special type of hemorrhage – subarachnoid hemorrhage – most often occurs when a brain aneurysm ruptures into the space surrounding the brain.

Common risk factors for hemorrhagic stroke include hypertension, blood thinning medication, trauma and a strong family history of intracranial aneurysms. Regardless of cause, the goal of therapy is to first stop the bleeding. This may require better blood pressure control, reversal of anticoagulation or surgery.

Transient Ischemic Attack (TIA) – These episodes of neurological impairment usually resolve in less than an hour. But this return to normal can be falsely reassuring to patients. There’s a high-risk of having another stroke in the immediate time period after a TIA. Rather than view a TIA as a “mini-stroke” a better analogy is to view a TIA as a tremor with the potential for a much larger earthquake to come. TIAs are medical emergencies and should be treated as such. If you experience one, seek immediate medical attention.

The short- and long-term effects of having a stroke – as well as the potential for recovery – depend on several variables, including the size and location of the stroke as well as how quickly treatment is administered and treatment type. Your age and other health comorbidities also influence recovery. Availability of inpatient and outpatient stroke rehabilitation services can tremendously improve the outcomes for stroke patients.

At Ascension Wisconsin, we’re committed to providing the most advanced stroke care to help patients experience better outcomes. One way we do this is by providing the most innovative treatments for the most debilitating types of strokes. Using the newest devices and technology, we can help patients survive these strokes and get back to their everyday activities.

To learn more about types of stroke and stroke treatment, reach out to your personal doctor. To find a personal doctor near you, contact your health insurance provider.

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