Stroke is the fifth-leading cause of death in the United States and one of the leading causes of disability. It’s a circulatory system disease that affects the arteries leading into the brain and those within it.
Arteries are blood vessels that carry oxygenated blood, along with a variety of nutrients, from the heart to all of the body’s tissues, including those in the brain. If they become blocked, either by plaque or a clot, or they rupture (burst), that brain area starves, and brain cells die. This is known as a stroke.
At Memphis Neurology, our expert team of neurologists specializes in acute and chronic strokes, providing expert diagnosis and treatment for our patients throughout the Memphis metro area from locations in Germantown, Tennessee, and Southaven, Mississippi. Here’s what you need to know about the three kinds of strokes and what we can do to treat them.
The three kinds of strokes
Strokes are classified into three different types:
1. Transient ischemic attack (TIA)
Also referred to as a warning or ministroke, a TIA occurs when an artery becomes only temporarily blocked. This leads to stroke symptoms but doesn’t cause permanent brain damage. However, a TIA still requires emergency medical care, as it can be the precursor to a major stroke.
2. Ischemic stroke
Ischemic strokes are by far the most common type, accounting for about 87% of all strokes. They occur when a blood clot fully blocks an artery, preventing blood from flowing to the brain. The clot often develops due to atherosclerosis, aka “hardening of the arteries.” A plaque of fats, cholesterol, proteins, calcium, and cellular debris forms on the blood vessel’s inner lining, narrowing the conduit. Unlike with a TIA, the blood clot causing an ischemic stroke won’t go away unless you receive treatment.
An ischemic stroke can take on one of two forms: embolic or thrombotic. Embolic means the clot travels from elsewhere in your body through the blood vessels to your brain. Some 15% of embolic strokes come from an irregular heartbeat, known as atrial fibrillation. Thrombotic means the clot forms inside a blood vessel within the brain itself.
3. Hemorrhagic stroke
A hemorrhagic stroke occurs when a blood vessel in the brain leaks blood into the surrounding tissues or ruptures. It can originate from one of three conditions:
- Aneurysm: section of a weakened blood vessel balloons outward and may rupture
- Arteriovenous malformation: blood vessels have an abnormal structure, which can lead to a rupture
- High blood pressure: weakens small blood vessels, which then bleed into the brain
Knowing your risk factors (e.g. high blood pressure) can help you prevent a stroke from occurring by taking preventive measures.
Symptoms of a stroke
All three types of stroke cause similar symptoms because they all affect blood flow in your brain. The only way to know for sure which type of stroke you’re having is to get medical attention as quickly as possible. Imaging tests provide your doctor with a good view of what’s going on in your brain and allow him to make an accurate diagnosis.
The National Stroke Association suggests using the FAST method to determine if you’re having a stroke:
- Face: If you smile, does one side of your face droop?
- Arms: If you try to raise both arms, can you only raise one?
- Speech: Is your speech slurred, are you having difficulty talking, or are you having difficulty understanding others?
- Time: Time is critical for getting treatment, so if you have symptoms, call 911 ASAP.
Additional symptoms include:
- Sudden confusion
- Difficulty walking or loss of coordination
- Sudden dizziness
- Sudden, severe headache with no known cause
- Difficulty seeing in one or both eyes
Even if you experience these symptoms as part of a TIA, which only lasts for about 1-5 minutes, you shouldn’t ignore them. Your health — and your life — depend on getting prompt medical attention.
Treating the three different types of stroke
Generally, it’s an emergency room doctor who diagnoses and treats your stroke, sometimes with medications, sometimes with surgical procedures, and sometimes with both. Once you’re stable, Memphis Neurology develops an individualized treatment plan to help you recover as fully as possible. Treatments include medication and various forms of therapy, including physical, occupational, and speech therapy.
If you notice any of the symptoms of a stroke, time is of the essence — get medical help as soon as possible. Once you’ve stabilized, contact Memphis Neurology for the rehabilitation you need to recover fully. Call us at either location, or book online.