ischemic stroke

Ischemic Stroke 101: Symptoms, Causes, Treatment & Recovery

Learn all about ischemic stroke including its symptoms, causes, treatment, prevention and management.

by Lorraine Bunag, R.N.

What is Ischemic Stroke?

An ischemic stroke happens when the blood flow in an artery that supplies oxygen to the brain is interrupted. The brain cells within the affected area then sustain damage and begin to die within minutes, resulting in the potential loss of neurologic function. 

According to reports, an acute ischemic stroke can be thrombotic or embolic.

Thrombotic Stroke

A thrombotic stroke happens when a blood clot forms within the blood vessel in the brain and interrupts the blood flow. 

Embolic Stroke

On the other hand, an embolic stroke occurs when a blood clot or plaque debris forms in other parts of the body and then travels to the blood vessel in the brain through the bloodstream. 

Regardless of whether the acute ischemic stroke is thrombotic or embolic, it remains a medical emergency requiring prompt treatment.

Hemorrhagic Stroke vs. Ischemic Stroke

Both hemorrhagic and ischemic strokes are medical emergencies because they cause oxygen deprivation to a part of the brain. However, they happen differently.

If an ischemic stroke occurs due to blood clots or fatty plaque, a hemorrhagic stroke happens when a blood vessel within or on the surface of the brain ruptures and bleeds. The bleeding (hemorrhage) and resulting pressure from the swelling and blood buildup then deprive an area of oxygen and cause more damage.

Ischemic Stroke Symptoms

Before we discuss the causes and risk factors and ischemic stroke treatment, let’s first talk about the symptoms.

Please note that strokes, regardless of type, usually present with acute or sudden neurologic deficit or change in their level of consciousness. These sudden signs and symptoms may include:

  • Weakness or numbness in the face or limb, especially on one side of the body.
  • Confusion or disorientation.
  • Vision changes, i.e., having trouble seeing in one eye.
  • Trouble in speaking or understanding speech.
  • Dizziness
  • Difficulty in walking or maintaining balance
  • Headache with unexplained cause

Every individual is different, and your loved one has care needs that are unique. Engaging a caregiver for your loved one not only encourages interaction; it also helps build a strong emotional support for your loved one.

To give your loved one the best care he/she deserves, we provide a free care consultation for you and your loved one, to ensure that they get a Care Professional that best suits their needs.

When to Seek Medical Help

Like mentioned earlier, a stroke is a medical emergency. The sooner you get an ischemic stroke treatment, the greater the chance to prevent further brain damage. If you suspect a stroke, bring the person to the hospital immediately.

Experts use the acronym FAST to detect the possibility of stroke using simple instructions:

Face

Ask the person to smile. A smile that droops to one side may indicate a stroke.

Arm

Instruct the person to raise their arms. A sign of possible stroke is when their arm drifts downward, or they cannot raise their arm.

Speech

Ask the person to say a simple phrase. Is there something wrong with the way they said it? Is it slurred?

Time

If you notice at least one of these signs, bring the patient to the hospital or call your local emergency hotline.

Ischemic Stroke Causes and Risk Factors

There are three primary reasons why an ischemic stroke happens.

The most common reason is a thrombus or a blood clot in the artery (thrombotic). Another possible cause is an embolus, a fatty plaque or blood clot from elsewhere in the body that travels to an artery in the brain (embolic).  

A buildup of fatty deposits in the brain’s artery can also result in an ischemic stroke because it makes the blood vessel narrower, thereby reducing blood flow.

Many factors increase a person’s risk of experiencing an ischemic stroke. These factors include:

Medical Conditions

People with obstructive sleep apnea, obesity, diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol, and other cardiovascular conditions are at a higher risk of developing an ischemic stroke.

Additionally, the use of hormonal therapies or contraceptive pills that contain estrogen is also a risk factor.

Lifestyle Factors

Lifestyle risk factors for ischemic stroke include cigarette smoking, exposure to second-hand smoke, heavy alcohol consumption, use of illegal drugs, and lack of physical activity.

Non-Modifiable Factors

Uncontrollable factors that heighten the risk for ischemic stroke involve:

  • Age: People older than 55 are at a higher risk than younger people.
  • Gender: Men are more likely to experience a stroke than women. When women experience a stroke, they are usually at an advanced age. However, experts say women have a higher risk of dying due to stroke than men.
  • Race: Individuals of African American descent have a higher risk of developing stroke.

Ischemic Stroke Diagnosis

Before talking about ischemic stroke treatment strategies, let’s first discuss the diagnosis.

Once the patient reaches the hospital, the doctor will assess their physical condition and inquire about their medical history. If they suspect a stroke, they will most probably order imaging tests like magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and computerized tomography (CT) scans. These tests provide photos of the brain and can detect a blockage or damage. They are also valuable for determining the kind of stroke and ruling out other conditions like a brain tumor.

Additional tests include:

  • Blood tests to check for cholesterol levels.
  • Electrocardiogram to check for arrhythmia or abnormal heartbeats.
  • Echocardiography to assess the heart for abnormalities and clots.
  • Angiography to see if there are blockages.

Ischemic Stroke Treatment

A person who experiences a stroke, regardless of type, needs immediate treatment. With prompt treatment, they can prevent life-threatening and permanent complications, reduce brain damage, and improve chances of recovery.

Reports say that if a patient receives medical treatment within the first 3 hours of an ischemic stroke incident, the doctors may give them medicine to dissolve the clot and regain the blood’s oxygen supply. An example of this medicine is tissue Plasminogen (tPA), and it increases the patient’s chance at a full recovery.

Besides these, the patient may also receive antiplatelet and anticoagulation medicines to prevent blood clotting, neuroprotective agents that might help with brain damage, and reperfusion therapy that helps improve blood flow. In many cases, the patient also needs an intravenous line and oxygen therapy.

Another possible treatment for an ischemic stroke is thrombectomy or the removal of blood clots. However, doctors often only recommend this if tPA doesn’t work. There are also instances when a thrombectomy reduces the risk of another stroke from occurring.   

Complications of Ischemic Stroke

Complications from an ischemic stroke depend primarily on the location and extent of the brain damage. Some of the disabilities that may happen after an acute ischemic stroke are:

  • Numbness, weakness, or paralysis on the part of the body.
  • Reduced ability to speak or understand words.
  • Difficulty swallowing.
  • Memory loss and confusion
  • Poor judgment
  • Changes in behavior and personality
  • Emotional problems

Please note that some of these complications might get better with medications and therapy. For instance, patients who cannot walk after getting out of the hospital may start regaining strength once they begin with physical therapy.

Homage offers a wide range of home-based care services that can help alleviate loneliness among older adults.

Our Care Professionals are equipped with the right skills to handle complex medical conditions, and are trained to manage and regulate different emotions faced by your loved one. On top of providing meaningful companionship, our Care Professionals are able to help you with the following:

For more information, schedule a free consult with the Homage Care Advisory Team and they will reach out to you within 48-hours.

Ischemic Stroke Recovery and Rehabilitation

According to experts, stroke rehabilitation typically starts immediately, while they’re still in the hospital after their condition has stabilized or within 48 hours after the acute ischemic stroke.

What the rehabilitative process entails depends on the symptoms experienced by the patient. However, expect it to be intense initially and then eventually lighten up as the patient gets better. Post-stroke recovery may include:

Physical Therapy 

Physical therapy focuses on sensory and motor impairment. A physical therapy routine may include exercises that improve strength, balance, and coordination. In many cases, physical therapists use constraint-induced therapy to intentionally immobilize the unaffected area to “force” the affected body part to regain its function.

Occupational Therapy

Occupational therapy is almost similar to physical therapy; however, it is more directed to improve sensory and motor functions concerning the occupations or self-directed activities, such as grooming, eating, cooking, etc.

An occupational therapist often teaches the patient to “re-learn” activities of daily living in ways that promote safety and regain their function.

Speech-Language Pathology

Of course, if the patient develops difficulty talking and understanding speech, they might also need a speech-language pathologist. This strategy also helps the patient improve their ability to swallow.

A Note on Ischemic Stroke Recovery and Rehabilitation

Please keep in mind that stroke recovery and rehabilitation depend on the patient’s needs. There are cases where the patient needs many kinds of therapy, but there are also instances when they only require one.

For this reason, the patient and their family must work closely with the medical team.

If you need to seek a doctor’s medical advice and don’t want to risk going to the hospital or clinic yet, consider booking an online appointment with us. Likewise, we can also arrange a House Call Doctor to visit you at home.

Ischemic Stroke Prevention

There’s no definite way to prevent an acute ischemic stroke from happening. However, you can reduce the possibility by limiting or eliminating your risk factors.

For instance, you can eliminate your lifestyle factors by staying physically active and quitting or avoiding cigarette smoking. Similarly, you can limit your alcohol consumption and avoid the use of illicit drugs.

If you have medical conditions, be sure to keep them under control by taking your medication and following your doctor’s recommendations. Case in point, if you have diabetes, be sure to reach your target glucose levels; if you have hypertension, monitor your blood pressure and try to keep it in the normal range.

Finally, don’t forget to eat a healthy, balanced diet and to maintain a healthy weight.

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References
  1. Ischemic stroke. (2020, 9). A Non-Profit Hospital in Los Angeles | Cedars-Sinai. Retrieved May 29, 2021, from https://www.cedars-sinai.org/health-library/diseases-and-conditions/i/ischemic-stroke.html
  2. Ischemic stroke: MedlinePlus. (n.d.). Retrieved May 29, 2021, from https://medlineplus.gov/ischemicstroke.html
  3. Ischemic stroke: Practice essentials, background, anatomy. (2020, June 22). Diseases & Conditions – Medscape Reference. Retrieved May 29, 2021, from https://emedicine.medscape.com/article/1916852-overview
  4. Stroke – Symptoms and causes. (2020, August 8). Mayo Clinic. Retrieved May 29, 2021, from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/stroke/symptoms-causes/syc-20350113
  5. Stroke. (n.d.). Johns Hopkins Medicine, based in Baltimore, Maryland. Retrieved May 29, 2021, from https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/stroke
  6. Post-stroke rehabilitation fact sheet. (2020, May 13). National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke | National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Retrieved May 30, 2021, from https://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/patient-caregiver-education/fact-sheets/post-stroke-rehabilitation-fact-sheet#when
  7. Stroke: Causes, prevention. (n.d.). Cleveland Clinic. Retrieved May 30, 2021, from https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/5601-stroke-understanding-stroke
  8. Stroke: Causes, prevention. (n.d.). Cleveland Clinic. Retrieved May 30, 2021, from https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/5601-stroke-understanding-stroke
About the Writer
Lorraine Bunag, R.N.
Lorraine is a registered nurse who spends most of her time writing informative articles on health and wellness. At the end of the day, she relaxes by reading a book or watching documentaries about unsolved mysteries.
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