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Each year, nearly 800,000 people experience a stroke in the United States, whether it be a recurrent stroke or their first. That translates to a stroke occurring every 40 seconds. In fact, one in four patients have already had a stroke before. Do you know the warning signs of a stroke?

“Most of us think that a stroke occurs when there is lack of blood flow to an area of the brain,” says Dr. Clemens Schirmer, neurosurgeon at Geisinger Medical Center. “There are actually two kinds of strokes, each causing a disturbance of the blood flow to your brain. Depending on which someone suffers from, their treatment and recovery will be different.”

Most strokes fall into one of these categories:

  • Ischemic stroke
  • Hemorrhagic stroke

Within each category there are further classifications a stroke can fall under. For example, transient ischemic attacks (TIA) are symptoms that come before a stroke, but they should be taken as seriously and managed as a stroke. This will help us to prevent the development of a stroke afterwards.

Strokes can happen to anyone at any time, regardless of age or gender, and the symptoms are always the same.

What is an ischemic stroke?

An ischemic stroke is the most common stroke. Occurring when blood flow through the artery to the brain becomes blocked, these account for nearly 90 percent of all strokes. Blood clots often lead to the types of blockages that cause ischemic strokes.
 
There are two types of ischemic strokes:

  • Embolic stroke
  • Thrombotic stroke

“An embolic stroke occurs when a blood clot travels to the brain and becomes lodged inside an artery,” says Dr. Schirmer. “Thrombotic strokes occur when a blood clot forms inside one of the brain’s arteries.”

What is a hemorrhagic stroke?

A hemorrhagic stroke occurs when the brain leaks blood or ruptures, putting too much pressure on brain structures and destroys the brain cells. This pressure leads to the brain cell damage. These strokes are more often caused by high blood pressure and aneurysms, and less often by malformations or fistulas.

There are two types of hemorrhagic strokes:

  • Intracerebral hemorrhage
  • Subarachnoid hemorrhage

Intracerebral are the most common types of hemorrhagic strokes. “Intracerebral hemorrhage strokes occur when bleeding takes place within the brain, while subarachnoid hemorrhage strokes take places when bleeding occurs between the brain and the spaces that immediately surround it due to a ruptured aneurysm or malformation,” says Dr. Schirmer.

What is a TIA stroke?

“Sometimes called a ‘mini-stroke’ or a ‘warning stroke,’ a transient ischemic attack (TIA) is a warning sign that a future, more severe stroke may occur.” says Dr. Schirmer. “We most often find that blood flow to the brain is blocked for no more than five minutes and symptoms resolve within 24 hours.” Still, these mini-strokes need immediate treatment.
 
While sometimes not considered a “true stroke,” TIA strokes must be managed aggressively, just like other strokes. Recognizing the signs and seeking treatment right away can lower your risk of suffering from a major stroke.

Immediate medical attention is needed in the event of any stroke—any blockage can damage or kill brain cells. When brain cells die as a result of stroke, the abilities those cells control – such as memory or muscle control – are negatively affected. Knowing these warning signs and calling 911 as soon as possible can make all the difference in someone’s recovery. Remember, BE FAST when someone suffers from a stroke:

  • Balance difficulties
  • Eyesight changes
  • Face drooping
  • Arm weakness
  • Speech difficulty

As much as 80 percent of strokes can be prevented. Making lifestyle changes, such as choosing healthy food, maintaining a healthy weight, limiting alcohol and refraining from smoking. If you fear that you may be at risk of a stroke, talk with your doctor.

Next steps:

Get stroke care at Geisinger
Make an appointment with Clemens Schirmer, MD
Learn what a comprehensive stroke center is