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Stroke - Topic Overview

A stroke occurs when a blood vessel in the brain is blocked or bursts camera.gif. Without blood and the oxygen it carries, part of the brain starts to die. The part of the body controlled by the damaged area of the brain can't work properly.

Brain damage can begin within minutes. That's why it's so important to know the symptoms of stroke and to act fast. Quick treatment can help limit damage to the brain and increase the chance of a full recovery.

Symptoms of a stroke happen quickly. A stroke may cause:

  • Sudden numbness, tingling, weakness, or loss of movement in your face, arm, or leg, especially on only one side of your body.
  • Sudden vision changes.
  • Sudden trouble speaking.
  • Sudden confusion or trouble understanding simple statements.
  • Sudden problems with walking or balance.
  • A sudden, severe headache that is different from past headaches.

If you have any of these symptoms, call911or other emergency services right away.

See your doctor if you have symptoms that seem like a stroke, even if they go away quickly. You may have had a transient ischemic attack (TIA), sometimes called a mini-stroke. A TIA is a warning that a stroke may happen soon. Getting early treatment for a TIA can help prevent a stroke.

There are two types of stroke:

  • An ischemic camera.gif (say "iss-KEE-mick") stroke happens when a blood clot blocks a blood vessel in the brain. The clot may form in the blood vessel or travel from somewhere else in the blood system. About 8 out of 10 strokes are ischemic strokes. They are the most common type of stroke in older adults.
  • A hemorrhagic camera.gif (say "heh-muh-RAW-jick") stroke develops when an artery in the brain leaks or bursts. This causes bleeding inside the brain or near the surface of the brain. Hemorrhagic strokes are less common but more deadly than ischemic strokes.

You need to see a doctor right away. If a stroke is diagnosed quickly—right after symptoms start—doctors may be able to use medicines that can help you recover better.

The first thing the doctor needs to find out is what kind of stroke it is: ischemic or hemorrhagic. This is important, because the medicine given to treat a stroke caused by a blood clot could be deadly if used for a stroke caused by bleeding in the brain.

To find out what kind of stroke it is, the doctor will do a type of X-ray called a CT scan of the brain, which can show if there is bleeding. The doctor may order other tests to find the location of the clot or bleeding, check for the amount of brain damage, and check for other conditions that can cause symptoms similar to a stroke.

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WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: February 05, 2013
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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