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Learning About an Ischemic Stroke

A clot blocking blood flow to an area of the brain

What is an ischemic stroke?

An ischemic (say "iss-KEE-mick") stroke occurs when a blood clot blocks a blood vessel in the brain. This means that blood cannot flow to some part of the brain. Without blood and the oxygen it carries, this part of the brain starts to die. The part of the body controlled by the damaged area of the brain cannot work properly.

This is different from a hemorrhagic (say "heh-muh-RA-jick") stroke, which happens when a blood vessel in the brain has burst open or has started to leak.

The brain damage from a stroke starts within minutes. Quick treatment can help limit damage to the brain and make recovery more likely.

People who have had a stroke may have a hard time talking, understanding things, and making decisions. They may have to relearn daily activities, such as how to eat, bathe, and dress. How well someone recovers from a stroke depends on how quickly the person gets to the hospital, where in the brain the stroke happened, and how severe it was. Training and therapy also make a difference in how well people recover.

What are the symptoms?

If you have any of these symptoms, call 911 or other emergency services right away:

  • You have symptoms of a stroke. These may include:
    • 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.

Call 911 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.

What causes an ischemic stroke?

An ischemic stroke is caused by a blood clot that blocks blood flow in the brain. The most common causes of blood clots include:

  • Hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis). This is caused by high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, or smoking.
  • Atrial fibrillation.

How is ischemic stroke treated?

Emergency treatment may be done to restore blood flow to the brain using medicine or a procedure. You may take medicines to help prevent another stroke. Ask your doctor if a stroke rehab program is right for you.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse call line if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

How can you prevent another stroke?

  • Work with your doctor to treat any health problems you have. High blood pressure, high cholesterol, atrial fibrillation, and diabetes all raise your chances of having a stroke.
  • Be safe with medicines. Take your medicine exactly as prescribed. Call your doctor if you think you are having a problem with your medicine.
  • Have a healthy lifestyle.
    • Do not smoke or allow others to smoke around you. If you need help quitting, talk to your doctor about stop-smoking programs and medicines. These can increase your chances of quitting for good. Smoking makes a stroke more likely.
    • Limit alcohol. Ask your doctor how much, if any, is safe for you.
    • Lose weight if you need to. A healthy weight will help you keep your heart and body healthy.
    • Be active. Ask your doctor what type and level of activity is safe for you.
    • Eat heart-healthy foods, like fruits, vegetables, and high-fibre foods.

Where can you learn more?

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