Health and Stroke

What are the two major types of stroke?

Two separate processes can cause a stroke by depriving the brain of oxygen.

December 7, 2021

Zeit Medical

A stroke occurs when blood flow within the brain is disrupted. Lack of blood to vital cells within the brain results in cell damage, causing a wide variety of symptoms depending on the area of the brain impacted. There are two major types of stroke: ischemic and hemorrhagic. This article will review these types and what causes them.

What is a hemorrhagic stroke?

A hemorrhagic stroke involves bleeding either in or around the brain. This is most often due to blood vessel ruptures. A ruptured blood vessel can be caused by an aneurysm (a weakening of the vessel wall that causes it to balloon), trauma to the head, high blood pressure, or an abnormally formed vessel. Regardless of the cause, this results in tissue damage and potential pressure buildup within the skull. 

What is an ischemic stroke?

An ischemic stroke occurs when a clot slows or blocks blood flow to a part of the brain. A blood clot may be caused by the buildup of fatty plaque within an artery wall or more commonly the result of stagnant blood flow. The blockage can be a result of a clot formation directly in the brain, known as a thrombotic stroke; or it can be caused by a clot that travelled from another part of the body (such as the heart), and gets wedged in an artery of the brain, known as an embolic stroke.

Is one type worse than the other?

In general, a hemorrhagic stroke tends to have a worse prognosis than an ischemic one. This is because the bleeding can potentially result in severe brain damage due to swelling and extensive pressure on the surrounding delicate tissues. In fact, some research indicates that it tends to be associated with higher disability and mortality rates. However, there are many other factors that determine how well a person recovers from either type of stroke.

Differentiating between the two major types of stroke

Since both types of stroke lead to poor blood perfusion within the brain, the symptoms are often quite similar. The only way to truly differentiate between the two types of stroke is to get immediate medical attention. Both are medical emergencies. Your doctor will order imaging tests to determine the underlying cause of the stroke so that they can decide on the best next step for treatment.

Which type is most common?

According to the CDC, around 87% of all strokes are ischemic. Since hemorrhagic strokes tend to be more deadly, some may think of this as a “good” statistic. However, many people tend to associate stroke symptoms with a headache. Unfortunately, a headache is significantly more common with a hemorrhagic stroke due to the involvement of the very sensitive skin around the brain (meninges). Thus, a headache is a bad indicator for the majority of strokes. Rather, it's important to be wary of signs like face drooping, arm weakness, and speaking difficulties.

Getting quick care is key

Regardless of which type of stroke is suffered, the most vital factor is time. When the signs of a stroke are recognized quickly and medical attention is sought as soon as possible, this dramatically improves the rates of survival and recovery. Sometimes these signs can be overlooked if they're mild, or even missed completely if they start at night during sleep. This is why new technology has been developed to help detect changes in brain function, especially at night while sleeping. This type of technology can help to improve the odds of getting the fast care that's needed.

If you suspect a loved one, or even yourself, is experiencing a stroke, always remember to get help immediately.


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