Ischemic Stroke

Your Care Explained > Conditions and Diagnoses : Ischemic Stroke

Studies have shown that women with stroke symptoms aren’t treated as aggressively with clot busters and other therapies as men are. One reason may be that women don’t get to the emergency room as quickly as men—another reason not to be shy when it comes to calling 911.

Ischemic stroke occurs when a blood vessel in or near the brain becomes blocked. Without blood bringing oxygen and nutrients to brain cells, these cells may stop functioning and die. Recognizing stroke symptoms early is key to successful treatment.

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Depending on the area of the brain affected, an ischemic stroke may impair your ability to speak, walk, see, or think clearly.

Blockages responsible for ischemic stroke are usually the result of an accumulation of atherosclerotic plaque on blood vessel walls, which blocks blood flow; thrombi, or blood clots that have formed in narrowed vessels; or emboli, clots that originate in the heart or a larger blood vessel, break away and become lodged in a smaller vessel.

Symptoms of Stroke

The earlier treatment is begun, the greater the likelihood of a full recovery. It’s important to call 911 immediately if you have weakness or numbness of the face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body; confusion or difficulty speaking or understanding; dimness or loss of vision in one or both eyes; dizziness or problems with balance or coordination; difficulty moving or walking; or a severe headache with no other known cause.

Diagnosing Stroke

Emergency physicians can usually diagnose a stroke, and even the area of the brain that is affected, by noting the patient’s symptoms. They might perform urine or blood tests to rule out other conditions, such as severe infection or very low glucose levels, which can mimic stroke. A Doppler ultrasound examination can determine whether the stroke is due to a blocked blood vessel instead of a hemorrhage.

Treating Stroke

Clot-busting drugs can help dissolve clots and restore blood flow if delivered within three hours after symptoms begin. The longer it takes to restore blood circulation, the more damage may be done. Rarely, surgery also may be necessary. A blood thinner, such as aspirin or warfarin, may be recommended to help prevent future clots and another stroke. Rehabilitation therapy can help to correct impairments resulting from stroke as other brain cells take over the function of those that were lost. Recovery can continue for years following a stroke.

Date Last Modified: January 21, 2011

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