What You Need to Know About Ischemic Strokes - Virtua Article

What You Need to Know About Ischemic Strokes

By Ricardo Mabanta, MD—Virtua Neurologist

When you think about stroke, chances are your first instinct is to recall the tell-tale signs. That’s because stroke affects the brain and results in very distinctive symptoms that affect one side of the body that include sudden weakness in the face, arm, or leg, and slurred speech. So you can probably recognize when someone is having a stroke. But, do you know what’s causing it or, most importantly, how to respond?

What causes ischemic strokes

According to the American Stroke Association, 87% of strokes are considered ischemic strokes. This type of is stroke caused by a blockage of an artery. Ischemic strokes are then broken down into 2 types—thrombotic and embolic strokes.

A thrombotic stroke occurs when plaques (a combination of cholesterol, fat, calcium and other substances) form on the wall of an artery that leads to the brain. These plaques can either slow blood flow through the artery or cause a blood clot that blocks the flow all together, which causes a stroke. 

An embolic stroke occurs when a clot forms somewhere outside of the brain, such as in the heart chamber. This clot can break away and travel through the blood vessels to the brain, causing an embolic stroke. In some cases, these clots can break up on their own without causing damage.

What puts you at risk for a stroke

Some people have a greater stroke risk than others because of uncontrollable risk factors like age, gender, family history or race. However, some risk factors are more easily controlled. These include high blood pressure, smoking, cholesterol, diabetes, obesity, and lack of exercise. Elderly people with poorly controlled risk factors like blood pressure or cholesterol are at the highest risk for stroke.

What you can do to prevent stroke

Most physicians will tell you that the best way to treat a stroke is to prevent it. Here are a few commonsense ways to reduce your risk:

  • Exercise regularly (30 minutes a day, 5 days a week)
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Quit or avoid smoking
  • Control blood pressure 

Regular physical exams with your primary care doctor are also important for keeping all aspects of your health in check. 

How ischemic strokes are treated 

Commonly, people having a stroke don’t treat it as an emergency. Many think the symptoms will simply go away on their own. However, it’s important to understand that a stroke requires immediate medical attention. This means that you MUST CALL 911 immediately if you think you or someone you are with is having a stroke. Relatively minor strokes can result in significant brain damage, but they can also be deadly. 

For a person having an ischemic stroke, a medication called tPA can be administered right away to dissolve the clot and restore blood flow in the brain. This medication must be given within 3–4 hours from when stroke symptoms started, so the sooner it’s given, the faster oxygen can be restored to the brain. This helps minimize the long-term effects of stroke.

It’s important to remember—strokes can be prevented. Talk to your primary care doctor about your risks and what you can do to manage them.

Updated November 15, 2016

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