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Diagnosing the Different Types Stroke

Being able to distinguish between the different types of stroke can help a patient optimize their recovery efforts, or pinpoint risk factors and prevent a primary occurrence.

There are two different types of stroke: those caused by blood clots (ischemic) and those caused by a bursting blood vessel (hemorrhagic). There are also transient ischemic attacks, or mini-strokes, that result from temporary blockages.

Ischemic Strokes

Ischemic strokes account for the vast majority of stroke occurrences, more than 85 percent according to the American Heart Association. An ischemic stroke is caused by a clot that prevents blood from flowing to part of the brain. These clots are caused by fatty deposits in vessel walls that accumulate overtime. Certain disorders and lifestyle habits greatly increase the risk of harmful plaque buildup.

Diseases and Lifestyle Factors That Increase Risk of Ischemic Stroke:

  • High Cholesterol
  • Cigarette Smoking
  • High Blood Pressure
  • Diabetes
  • Obesity
  • Physical Inactivity

There are two different types of ischemic strokes. An embolic stroke occurs when a blood clot develops somewhere in the body, then travels to the brain. A thrombic stroke occurs when a clot develops within a crucial artery.

A silent cerebral infarction, or silent stroke, is a form of ischemic stroke that passes through the brain quickly. A victim of a silent stroke may only suffer from the symptoms of stroke for a short period of time, but should pursue immediate medical attention, as these small strokes are often indicators of a larger, future stroke.

The risk for a silent stroke increases with age. According to a study by the American Heart Association the prevalence of a silent cerebral infarction between the ages of 55 and 64 years of age is 11 percent, but increases to 43 percent between the ages of 80 and 85.

Hemorrhagic Strokes

Hemorrhagic strokes occur when a vessel within the brain bursts. When a weakened vessel ruptures it causes blood to spill into the surrounding brain tissue. There are two types of weakened blood vessels that can cause hemorrhagic strokes: aneurysms and arteriovenous malformations (AVMs).

Blood Vessel Weaknesses That Can Cause Hemorrhagic Strokes

  • Aneurysm: An aneurysm is when a weak part of an artery bulges out. When left untreated the aneurysm will continue to expand until it ruptures, causing a stroke.
  • Arteriovenous Malformations: AVMs can occur anywhere within the brain and are believed to be congenital, meaning they are present from birth. An AVM is a malformed group of blood vessels that obscures proper blood flow in the brain. Because AVMs contain defective blood vessels, they can weaken over time and eventually burst, causing a stroke.

Transient Ischemic Attacks

Transient ischemic attacks are often referred to as, “mini-strokes.” They are caused by blood clots, like ischemic strokes, but result from temporary blockages. Symptoms may come and go quickly, meaning that TIAs often go undiagnosed, but these mini-strokes are often indicators of a larger stroke on the horizon.

Read more on TIAs in this article, Mini-Strokes Receive Major Attention.

By: Kayleen Cohen, Stroke-Network.com

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"Being able to distinguish between the different types of stroke can help a patient optimize their recovery efforts, or pinpoint risk factors and prevent a primary occurrence."

Digging for a Diagnosis

Every stroke is as different as the person it affects. For stroke survivors, it is important to ask your doctor to specify exactly what type of stroke occurred and to pinpoint what parts of the brain were affected.

“I was never given any detailed diagnosis of my stroke,” survivor Dean Reinke said. “With no diagnosis there is no chance of getting appropriate therapy because the therapists are only working with the symptoms rather than the underlying cause.”

Ask your doctor to review your MRI and help you get the specific diagnosis you deserve.

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