Types of Stroke

Medically Reviewed by Sabrina Felson, MD on August 23, 2022
5 min read

Strokes are medical emergencies that stop or interrupt the flow of blood to the brain. The five types are:   

  • Ischemic stroke

  • Hemorrhagic stroke

  • Transient ischemic attack (mini-stroke)

  • Brain stem stroke

  • Cryptogenic stroke (stroke of unknown cause)

What are the warning signs for a stroke?

Think of the word F-A-S-T to help you spot stroke signs and know when to call 911 for yourself or someone else:

  • Face drooping: One side of the face droops or is numb. Your smile is uneven or lopsided.

  • Arm weakness: One arm is weak or numb. One arm drifts downward when you try to raise both arms.

  • Speech difficulty: Speech is slurred. You're unable to speak or hard to understand.

  • Time to call 911: If you have any of these signs, even if they go away, call 911 and get to a hospital immediately.

An ischemic stroke happens when a blood vessel supplying blood to your brain gets blocked by a blood clot. Most strokes are this type. 

Symptoms of ischemic stroke

The symptoms 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

Causes of ischemic stroke

A fatty substance called plaque collects in your arteries and narrows them. This process is called atherosclerosis, and it slows the flow of blood. Plaque breaks off and lots of cells come to the rescue causing a clot and blocking blood flow through the artery.

Besides atherosclerosis, other things that can raise your chances of getting an ischemic stroke are:

Types of ischemic stroke

There are two main types of ischemic stroke:

  • Thrombotic strokesThey're caused by a blood clot that forms in an artery that supplies blood to your brain, also called an atherosclerotic stroke.

  • 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. Atrial fibrillation increases the risk of clots forming in the heart that can then travels to the brain.

Risk factors of ischemic stroke

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

Complications of ischemic stroke

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's a limited time for treating an acute stroke. If you don't get treatment, you could have trouble like:

  • Permanent weakness or numbness or garbled speech
  • 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.

Symptoms of TIA

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 headaches

Causes and risk factors of TIA are the same as in an ischemic stroke. A TIA can sometimes be a warning sign that you'll have an ischemic stroke soon.

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

These happen when bleeding in your brain damages nearby cells. 

Causes and risk factors for hemorrhagic stroke

The common factors are:

  • You are over age 65
  • Have high cholesterol, high blood pressure, or diabetes that isn’t under control
  • Are obese
  • Have had a stroke in the past
  • Have a family history of strokes
  • Smoke
  • Eat unhealthy foods
  • Don;t exercise
  • Have been Injured
  • Have a bleeding disorder
  • Use cocaine
  • Have abnormal blood vessels (AVMs)
  • Have an aneurysm (a weak area in a blood vessel that breaks open)

There are two types of hemorrhagic stroke. Which kind you have is based on where the bleeding happens. 

  • Subarachnoid hemorrhage means it happened in the area between your brain and skull. 
  • Intracerebral hemorrhage is bleeding inside the brain.

Symptoms of hemorrhagic stroke

Hemorrhagic stroke symptoms usually increase gradually over minutes or a few hours, although a subarachnoid hemorrhage may come on suddenly. You might notice:

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

Complications of hemorrhagic stroke

A hemorrhagic stroke can cause complications like:

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

This type happens in your brain stem. It can affect both sides of the body. If this happens, you’re left in a “locked in” state where you’re unable to speak or move below the neck.

Symptoms of brain stem stroke

It can be hard to recognize when someone is having a brain stem stroke. They may have some symptoms without the hallmark sign of weakness on one side of the body. Symptoms of brain stem stroke include:

  • Vertigo, dizziness and loss of balance
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Double vision
  • Slurred speech
  • Passing out
  • Trouble with central nervous system functions like blood pressure and breathing
  • “Locked in” syndrome -- you can only move your eyes

Causes and risk factors of brain stem stroke

Causes include:

  • Blood clots
  • Hemorrhages
  • Injury to an artery due to sudden head or neck movements (these are rare)

Risk factors include:

What makes this stroke unique is the location. It's in a very tight small spot that controls vital functions so the consequences are often devastating, including high risk of death.