What Is a Cerebrovascular Accident (CVA)?

A cerebrovascular accident (CVA) is the medical term used to describe all of the different types of stroke. A cerebrovascular accident means that the blood vessels in the brain have had some type of malfunction.

What is cerebrovascular?

The cerebrum is the scientific name for the brain. Vascular is a term that refers to all blood vessels, including arteries, veins, and capillaries.

The arteries that bring blood to the brain from the heart and the veins that carry blood away from the brain towards the heart are cerebral vessels.

Tiny blood vessels called capillaries also supply the brain with blood and remove waste materials from the brain.

What is a cerebrovascular accident?

A cerebrovascular accident is often called a CVA. It means that one of the cerebral vessels has malfunctioned in some way. If an artery is blocked, then an ischemic event occurs. If an artery leaks or ruptures, then blood damages the brain. This is called a hemorrhage.

Usually, veins and capillaries do not cause problems in the brain, but if a vein or capillary leaks, then that also causes a cerebrovascular accident.

What are the effects of a cerebrovascular accident?

The cerebral vessels are nicely routed to specific territories throughout the brain. Each cerebral vessel corresponds to a certain region of the brain. Each region of the brain corresponds to a certain action of the body or mind- such as thinking, sensing the environment or moving a part of the body.

There are immediate effects of a cerebrovascular accident and there are often also long term effects. The effects of a cerebrovascular accident are caused by an injury to the portion of the brain that is damaged by bleeding or lack of blood. In turn, the bodily function controlled by the damaged area of the brain becomes impaired.

Can you have a temporary CVA?

A cerebrovascular accident may cause temporary, reversible effects if the blood vessel is only blocked for a few seconds. This is called a transient ischemic attack (TIA.) A TIA is often a warning sign of a stroke.

A stroke occurs when a cerebrovascular accident lasts for more than a few seconds- causing permanent brain damage. To learn more about how a CVA causes brain damage, see this article.

Types of cerebrovascular accidents

A cerebrovascular accident is a medically descriptive name for a stroke, and it includes all of the different kinds of strokes.

The type of blood vessel problem that caused the cerebrovascular accident, such as ischemic (blocked blood vessel) or hemorrhagic (bleeding blood vessel), may identify a CVA.

An ischemic stroke can be named for the type of blood clot that caused it, such as an embolic clot (a blood clot that traveled from somewhere in the body to the brain) or a thrombotic clot (a blood clot forming within a blood vessel and blocking it.).

A cerebrovascular accident is sometimes named after the malfunctioning blood vessel, such as a middle cerebral artery stroke. Or, a cerebrovascular accident can be labeled by the location in the brain that is damaged, such as a brainstem stroke.

Sometimes, cerebrovascular accidents are given a special name to describe an unusual mix of signs and symptoms, such as Wallenberg syndrome or locked in syndrome.

CVA Prevention

A cerebrovascular accident is always an accident- meaning that it is an unwanted, unpredicted and sudden event. But, there are some clues that you might be at risk of having a CVA. Sometimes, people have strange experiences that seem like premonitions of a CVA. There are also some predictors of having a CVA. And, most importantly, it is worthwhile to be familiar with the most common signs of a CVA, because recognizing them can save your life or someone else’s.


Ropper, Allan, Samuels, Martin, Klein, Joshua, Principles of Neurology, 10th Edition, McGraw-Hill, 2014

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