The 3 Different Types of Stroke: Symptoms, Causes and Treatments

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Author Name: Beth Rush
Date: Monday December 14, 2020

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Strokes terrify many people, and for good reason. These neuro-cardiovascular events can result in severe disability and a permanent loss of cognition and function. 

However, not all strokes share the same underlying triggers, and prognosis varies depending on severity and variety. What are the three different types of stroke, and what are the symptoms, causes and treatments for each? Most importantly, can you prevent them? 

Overview of the Three Different Types of Stroke

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the three different stroke types consist of ischemic, hemorrhagic and transient ischemic attacks (TIA) or mini-strokes.  

1. Ischemic Stroke 

Ischemic strokes occur when a blood vessel to the brain becomes obstructed, typically due to a clot. This type makes up 87% of all strokes. 

The primary cause of ischemic stroke occurs when fatty deposits lining vessel walls create one of two types of obstruction:

  • Cerebral thrombosis: This type refers to blood clots caused by fatty deposits cutting off the brain’s oxygen supply. 
  • Cerebral embolism: This version occurs when a clot elsewhere in the body gets loose and travels through the bloodstream until it gets stuck in a smaller vessel. Embolisms often occur with atrial fibrillation or irregular heartbeat. 

Some people suffer “silent strokes,” where blood clots interrupt blood flow to the brain without causing immediate and substantial damage. However, these incidents increase the risk that an individual will have a more debilitating attack down the road.  

2. Hemorrhagic Stroke 

A hemorrhagic stroke occurs when a blood vessel ruptures in your brain. These events are also called intracerebral hemorrhages, and they cause severe symptoms, including the following:

  • Total or limited loss of consciousness
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Sudden and severe headache
  • Weakness or paralysis of the face or one side of the body
  • Seizures, dizziness and loss of balance
  • Problems with speech, swallowing or concentration

Some people with rare migraine variants, such as hemiplegic migraine, experience similar symptoms, although they make a full recovery. You must seek medical attention if you suspect this or any stroke type. Without an evaluation, it’s impossible to differentiate the two sometimes, and migraines increase the risk of stroke. 

3. Transient Ischemic Attack (TIA)

A TIA is a temporary period of symptoms akin to those seen in stroke. These attacks are similar to hemiplegic migraines, although they typically last only a few minutes in TIAs. 

However, their short-lived nature doesn’t make them less severe. Approximately one out of three individuals who suffer a TIA eventually go on to have a full-blown stroke. 

Researchers believe that TIAs occur when blood clots get stuck temporarily, then quickly pass through, freeing the blood supply. If you suspect a TIA, please seek immediate medical care. 

Treatment and Prognosis for Various Types of Stroke

Of all the three stroke types, the prognosis for TIAs is most favorable. However, those who have one of these events should make lifestyle changes like maintaining a healthy weight and exercising to reduce the risk of future clots. 

It’s critical to seek immediate medical treatment for strokes. Currently, the only nonsurgical way to remove the clot and restore function is tissue plasminogen activator (tPA). Doctors must administer this medication within three hours of symptoms appearing for best results. 

Tragically, only 3-5% of patients receive this medication in time to prevent severe damage. Otherwise, they must rely on surgical devices for clot-retrieval, which requires extensive intervention from medical staff. Comprehensive stroke centers have microcatheters that can administer tPA directly to the thrombus, but many patients lack access to such facilities. 

Another complication is that tPA should not be used in cases of hemorrhagic stroke. In these incidents, patients may need surgery to control bleeding and relieve pressure inside the skull. 

After the immediate danger passes, stroke patients often undergo lengthy rehabilitation. While some individuals eventually recover full or nearly complete functionality, others experience a permanent loss of cognition or bodily function. 

Preventive Measures for Stroke

Since current stroke treatments leave much to be desired, it’s better to take action to prevent them. While you can’t control factors such as your genetic makeup or family history, there are things you can manage: 

  • Lower your blood pressure: High blood pressure can lead to artery and vein damage. 
  • Quit smoking: Smoking can likewise damage blood vessels. 
  • Reduce your cholesterol: This sticky substance is responsible for the majority of strokes. 
  • Keep your weight in a healthy range: Doing so decreases the strain on your cardiovascular system. 

Educate Yourself on the 3 Different Types of Stroke

Now that you know about the three different types of stroke, you can take action to minimize your risk. Recognizing symptoms and seeking immediate medical care are keys to recovery if one does occur. 

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