What You Should Know About Cerebral Vascular Accidents

The Serious Health Concern Known as a Stroke

Senior Hispanic woman with head in hand
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A cerebral vascular accident is another name for a stroke or "brain attack." Strokes are caused by a disruption of the blood supply to a part of the brain and the culprit is either a blood clot or ruptured artery. Once the blood can no longer flow, your brain doesn't get the nutrients and oxygen it needs. As a result, brain cells may die and cause long-term damage.

If you think you're having a stroke, this is a very serious medical emergency and you should call 9-1-1 immediately.

Two Types of Stroke

There are two types of stroke: ischemic stroke and hemorrhagic stroke.

Ischemic stroke: You have an ischemic stroke when a blood clot blocks your brain's blood supply. This can occur when a clot forms in an already narrow artery, a clot breaks off from another part of your body and travels to your brain to cause the blockage, or when a sticky substance in your body called plaque causes the clog.

Hemorrhagic stroke: If a blood vessel in your brain weakens and breaks open, blood leaks into your brain causing a hemorrhagic stroke. This is more likely to occur if:

  • You have pre-existing blood vessel defects, including an aneurysm or arteriovenous malformation  
  • You are taking blood thinners including Coumadin (warfarin)
  • Your blood pressure gets so high your blood vessels burst
  • You're already having an ischemic stroke, because bleeding can develop, which turns it into a hemorrhagic stroke

    Risk Factors for Cerebral Vascular Accidents 

    The main risk factor for having a stroke is high blood pressure, or hypertension. Other factors include

      How Do I Know if I'm Having a Stroke?

      Sometimes you won't even know you've had a stroke, but most of the time the symptoms develop suddenly and without warning, according to the National Institutes of Health.

      Occasionally, symptoms will occur on an off for one or two days. They're typically worst when the stroke happens, but may gradually get worse as time goes on.

      What symptoms you have and their severity depend on how serious your stroke is and in what part of the brain it occurs. You may notice:

      • Changes in hearing or taste
      • Difficulty reading or writing
      • Eyesight issues, including double vision or varying degrees of vision loss
      • Trouble walking
      • Numbness or tingling on one side of your body

      Stroke Treatment

      Get to the hospital as quickly as possible for medical treatment because your survival and future quality of life depends on it. 

      At the hospital, you will probably receive a clot-busting drug if a clot is causing your stroke, and if your symptoms started within the last three to four and a half hours.

      The sooner you begin treatment the better your chances of having a good outcome.

      Other treatment options include:

      • Blood thinning medication, such as aspirin Plavix (clopidogrel) or Coumadin (warfarin)
      • Medication to control your risk factors (see list above)
      • A procedure or surgery to prevent more strokes or alleviate your symptoms


      National Institutes of Health, Medline Plus: Stroke

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