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/weakness on one side of your body.

There are two main types of stroke:

  • Ischemic
  • Hemorrhagic

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 Stroke

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 things that can raise your chances of getting an ischemic stroke are:

There are two main 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, or trouble walking
  • Vision loss or double vision

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


Sometimes you can get complications. A stroke damages your brain cells. The more damage that's done, the more problems you can have. That's why it's important to get medical help as soon as possible because there is a limited time for treating an acute stroke. 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

Ischemic strokes also include something called a "mini stroke" or a TIA (transient ischemic attack). This is a temporary blockage in blood flow to your brain. The symptoms usually last for just a few minutes or may go away in 24 hours.

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/weakness on one side of your body
  • Confusion
  • Dizziness or loss of balance
  • Trouble talking or understanding
  • Problems with your vision
  • Severe headache

Things that can raise your chances of getting a TIA are the same as those for other strokes, including:

  • Age
  • High blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, and heart disease
  • Obesity
  • Smoking
  • Family history of strokes
  • Atrial fibrillation

A TIA can sometimes be a warning sign that you'll have an ischemic stroke soon.

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.

Hemorrhagic Stroke

These happen when there is bleeding in your brain that damages nearby cells. The most common causes are:

  • High blood pressure
  • Injury
  • Bleeding disorders
  • Cocaine use
  • Abnormal blood vessels (AVMs)
  • Aneurysm (a weak area in a blood vessel that breaks open)

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 usually increase gradually over minutes or a few hours, although a subarachnoid hemorrhage may come on suddenly. 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:

  • Are over age 65
  • Have high cholesterol, high blood pressure, or diabetes that's not under control
  • Are obese
  • Had a stroke in the past
  • Have a family history of strokes
  • Smoke
  • Eat unhealthy foods
  • Don't exercise

A hemorrhagic stroke can cause complications like:

  • Seizures
  • Memory and thinking problems
  • Heart problems
  • Swallowing problems and trouble eating and drinking
  • Permanent neurologic disability


WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Minesh Khatri, MD on November 23, 2019



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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