Someone experiencing a stroke.

Understanding the 3 Major Types of Stroke

What Are the Types of Stroke?

Stroke is a general term used to describe any kind of blood disruption to the brain. A stroke can lead to permanent injury and is potentially life threatening. Let’s take a look at the different types of stroke, their symptoms and treatment options.

Ischemic Stroke

Ischemic strokes account for over 80% of all strokes. These types of strokes occur when blood is prevented from being supplied to the brain. When fat accumulates in blood vessels, the fat begins to line the vessel walls. This development of a fatty lining in blood vessels is called atherosclerosis. When the body has atherosclerosis, the fatty lining can form bits of plaque. Bits of fatty plaque can form clots in the blood. These blood clots are the leading cause of ischemic strokes.

Ischemic strokes are divided into two types of strokes: thrombotic and embolic. Thrombotic strokes happen when a blood clot develops in an artery that supplies the brain with blood. When clots form in another part of the body and become dislodged, they can flow to the brain, creating an embolic stroke. The clot then becomes stuck, preventing adequate blood flow.

When ischemic strokes occur, the person it affects may be unaware and they may not show any signs. These types of strokes are known as a silent cerebral infarction (SCI), or "silent stroke". An SCI is a risk factor for a stroke and can be a sign of future brain damage.

Hemorrhagic Stroke

A hemorrhagic stroke occurs when a blood vessel ruptures due to a weakened vessel or high blood pressure. Most hemorrhagic strokes occur due to high blood pressure.

If high blood pressure remains uncontrolled, the constant pressure can weaken blood vessels and cause the vessels to burst. Blood that leaks from the broken vessels can impair the brain cells.

Transient Ischemic Attack

Often nicknamed mini stroke, a transient ischemic attack (TIA) is caused by a temporary clot. During a TIA, blood flow becomes impaired for a brief period. Although its name sounds benign, a TIA can lead to a more severe stroke.

Because a TIA is a sign of a future stroke, a TIA is an emergency and its occurrence is dangerous. Around 30% of patients who suffer from a TIA and fail to receive further medical treatments may experience a major stroke within one year of their last TIA.

Risk Factors for a Stroke

The risks for a stroke include factors that can not be controlled, such as gender, age and genetics. However, many other risk factors can be mitigated through lifestyle changes.

Race, Age and Gender

Family history is a strong risk factor for a stroke. African American, Alaska Natives and American Indian individuals have a higher rate of developing a stroke compared to other races. Although women are more likely to die from a stroke, men are more likely to experience one. Older adults are also more prone to strokes.

High Blood Pressure

High blood pressure is a prime risk factor for a stroke. A blood pressure of 140/90 millimeters of mercury (mmHg) is considered high, and, over time, the pressure can weaken blood vessels.


Smoking raises blood pressure and can weaken blood vessels. Smoking can also compromise the amount of oxygen the body can utilize.

Non-steroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs

Prolonged use of nonsteroidal, anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), like ibuprofen, can increase the chances of stroke.

Other risk factors include:

  • Depression
  • High cholesterol
  • Fatty or salty diet
  • Heart disease
  • Diabetes
  • Alcohol abuse
  • Illegal drug use
  • Sedentary lifestyle
  • Obesity
  • Anxiety and stress

Symptoms of a Stroke

It’s vital to respond quickly if you or someone you know may be having a stroke. Most treatments for a stroke work best the sooner they can be delivered. The symptoms of a stroke include:

  • Drooping face
  • Inability to raise arms
  • Slurred speech

Time is of the essence. If any of the above symptoms are present, then emergency should be called to help right away.

An individual can also exhibit other signs of a stroke. They may experience a sudden and severe headache, along with nausea or vomiting. They may also have trouble walking, feel dizzy and they may lose their coordination.

After you get help, do not leave someone who you suspect is having a stroke alone. If you are alone and think you may be having a stroke, get help or call 911. If you cannot speak, try as best you can stay on the phone.

How to Prevent a Stroke

Healthy lifestyle changes can significantly reduce the chances of a stroke. Maintaining a healthy weight, consuming a diet low in animal fats and high in fiber, and keeping fit are general changes that can prevent many adverse health outcomes. Avoiding alcohol, managing stress, not smoking and taking care of yourself can keep individuals on track for good health.

Treatments Options for a Stroke

Obtaining early emergency treatment with blood thinners after a stroke occurs can help curb negative impacts. Medication treatments to lower cholesterol and blood pressure can also be prescribed to either prevent or treat a stroke.

Brain injuries from a stroke can be treated with medications and rehabilitative care. However, if the stroke injuries are severe, surgery may be necessary to extract or reroute blood and decrease pressure in the brain.

Strokes Are Preventable

The good news is that many types of stroke are not only controllable but can be worthwhile for overall health. Making efforts to eat well, manage stress, become active and avoid health risks such as smoking, can help to prevent the occurrence of a stroke.

Lastly, learning about the signs of a stroke and getting help quickly is crucial to preventing stroke-related brain injuries in yourself and others.