Types of Stroke

Have you learned that someone you care about had a stroke? Don't jump to conclusions about how it will affect him. Not all strokes are created equal. There are three major kinds, with different warning signs and symptoms.

All types have one thing in common: a loss of blood to part of your brain. That causes big problems.

Your brain cells need the oxygen that's carried by your blood. So when a stroke cuts the supply, some of the cells start to die. And that sets off trouble like memory loss, confusion, and numbness on one side your body.

There are three main types of stroke:

If you have signs of any of them, call 911 right away. The sooner you get treated, the less likely you are to have long-term effects.

Ischemic Strokes

Most strokes are this type. You get them when a fatty substance called plaque collects in your arteries and narrows them. This is called atherosclerosis, and it slows the flow of blood. As it pools, blood can clump and form clots -- and your artery gets blocked.

Besides atherosclerosis, some other causes of ischemic stroke are:

  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Heart attack
  • Problem with your heart's valves
  • Injury to blood vessels in your neck
  • Blood clotting problem

There are two types of ischemic stroke:

Thrombotic strokes. They're caused by a blood clot that forms in an artery that supplies blood to your brain.

Embolic strokes. They happen when a clot forms somewhere else in your body and travels through the blood vessels to your brain. It gets stuck there and stops the flow of your blood.

The symptoms of an ischemic stroke depend on which parts of your brain are affected. They can include things like:

  • Sudden numbness or weakness of your face, arm, or leg, often on one side of the body
  • Confusion
  • Problems speaking or understanding others
  • Dizziness, loss of balance or coordination, trouble walking
  • Vision loss or double vision

You're more likely to have an ischemic stroke if you:

  • Are over age 60
  • Have high blood pressure, heart disease, high cholesterol, or diabetes
  • Have an irregular heartbeat
  • Smoke
  • Have a family history of strokes

Sometimes you can get complications. A stroke damages your brain cells. The more that's done, the more problems you can have. That's why it's important to get medical help as soon as possible. If you don't get treatment, you can have trouble like:

  • Fluid buildup, swelling, and bleeding in your brain
  • Seizures
  • Problems with memory and understanding


Hemorrhagic Strokes

These happen when there is bleeding in your brain that damages nearby cells. It can be caused by an aneurysm, which is a weak area in a blood vessel, that breaks open.

Another cause of hemorrhagic strokes is something called an AVM (arteriovenous malformation). That's an abnormally formed blood vessel that opens up and bleeds.

Your doctor may tell you about two types of hemorrhagic stroke that are based on where the bleeding happens. If he says you had a "subarachnoid hemorrhage," it means it happened in the area between your brain and skull. But if he says it was an "intracerebral hemorrhage," your bleeding was inside the brain.

Hemorrhagic stroke symptoms start suddenly and are severe. Some things that can happen:

  • Intense headache that some people describe as "the worst headache they've ever had"
  • Confusion
  • Nausea or throwing up
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Problems with vision
  • Passing out

You're more likely to have this type of stroke if you:

A hemorrhagic stroke can cause complications like:

  • Seizures
  • Memory and thinking problems
  • Heart problems
  • Swallowing problems and trouble eating and drinking

Transient Ischemic Attacks (TIAs)

This is a temporary blockage in blood flow to your brain. Sometimes your doctor may call it a "mini-stroke." The symptoms usually last for just a few minutes.

TIAs can happen because the vessels that bring blood to your brain narrow. They also might occur because of a clot.

The symptoms may be similar to an ischemic stroke. You might have:

  • Numbness on one side of your body
  • Confusion
  • Dizziness or lose your balance
  • Trouble talking or understanding
  • Problems with your vision
  • Severe headache

TIA risks are the same as those for other strokes, including:

A TIA can sometimes be a warning sign that you'll have an ischemic stroke in the near future.

Don't take any chances if you or someone you know has any symptoms that seem like a stroke. Get medical help in a hurry.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by James Beckerman, MD, FACC on February 21, 2016



American Association of Neurologic Surgeons: "Stroke."

American Heart Association/American Stroke Association: "Hemorrhagic Strokes (Bleeds)," "TIA (Transient Ischemic Attacks)," "Why Getting Quick Stroke Treatment is Important."

Beaumont: "Ischemic Stroke."

Bernheisel, C.R. American Family Physician, December 2011.

Cleveland Clinic: "Transient Ischemic Attack (TIA)."

Mount Sinai Hospital: "Hemorrhagic Stroke."

National Stroke Association: "Let's talk about Ischemic Stroke," "What is Stroke?" "What is TIA?"

The Internet Stroke Center: "Ischemic Stroke."

UpToDate: "Patient information: Hemorrhagic stroke treatment (Beyond the Basics)."

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