Stroke

UnityPoint Health® provides the highest level of neurological care to patients suffering from stroke.

What is a Stroke?

A stroke is an interruption of the blood supply to any part of the brain. A stroke is sometimes called a "brain attack." Stroke is also known as cerebrovascular disease, CVA, cerebral infarction, subarachnoid bleed, cerebral hemorrhage, ischemic stroke and hemorrhagic stroke.

What Causes a Stroke?

Every 40 seconds, someone in the United States has a stroke. A stroke can happen when:

  • A blood vessel carrying blood to the brain is blocked by a blood clot. This is called an ischemic stroke.
  • A blood vessel breaks open, causing blood to leak into the brain. This is a hemorrhagic stroke.

If blood flow is stopped for longer than a few seconds, the brain cannot get blood and oxygen. Brain cells can die, causing permanent damage.

Ischemic Stroke

As the most common and treatable type of stroke, 80 percent of strokes are ischemic strokes. Ischemic strokes occur like a heart attack of the brain, when a condition called atherosclerosis blocks blood flow to the brain. Atherosclerosis causes fatty deposits to collect on the wall of the arteries, forming a sticky substance called plaque. Over time, the plaque builds up. Often, the plaque causes the blood to flow abnormally, which can cause the blood to clot. There are two types of clots:

  • A clot that stays in place in the brain is called a cerebral thrombus.
  • A clot that breaks loose and moves through the bloodstream to the brain is called a cerebral embolism.

Another important cause of cerebral embolisms is a type of arrhythmia called atrial fibrillation. Other causes of ischemic stroke include endocarditis, an abnormal heart valve, and having a mechanical heart valve. A clot can form on a heart valve, break off, and travel to the brain. For this reason, those with mechanical or abnormal heart valves often must take blood thinners.

Hemorrhagic Stroke

A second major cause of stroke is bleeding in the brain, called hemorrhagic stroke. This can occur when small blood vessels in the brain become weak and burst. Some people have defects in the blood vessels of the brain that make this more likely. The flow of blood after the blood vessel ruptures damages brain cells.

TIA Stroke 

Transient ischemic attack (TIA) occurs when the brain becomes blocked for a short period of time, causing the flood flow to that area of the brain to slow or stop. TIA is often referred to as a mini-stroke, with symptoms of a stroke lasting for 24 hours before disappearing. TIAs usually do not cause permanent brain damage, but are a major warning sign of stroke – up to 40 percent of people who have a TIA will go on to have an actual stroke – and should examined by a medical professional immediately.

Every Minute Counts!

If you or someone around you is experiencing symptoms of stroke, please call 9-1-1 immediately, and ask to be taken to the UnityPoint Health Emergency Room for around-the-clock care you can count on.