Ischemic Stroke

What is an ischemic stroke?

Ischemic stroke is a sudden reduction of blood flow to the brain. This leads to brain cell damage. It is most often caused by blood clots or narrowing in the blood vessels that supply the brain. This condition is an emergency, and requires urgent review by a doctor. Ischemic strokes are the most common type of stroke. The likelihood of stroke increases with age. Common signs of stroke are drooping of one side of the face, weakness on one side of the body, slurred speech or loss of any other function controlled by the brain. Stroke is one of the leading causes of disability and death worldwide.


The risk of having a stroke strongly increases with age. Although strokes can affect younger adults, the majority of strokes occur in people over 70 years of age. Many factors can increase the risk of stroke. Some medical conditions, most commonly high blood pressure, atrial fibrillation (AF) and diabetes, increase the risk of having an ischemic stroke. People who have already had one stroke or a transient ischemic attack (TIA or mini-stroke) are at risk of having another stroke. People who smoke also increase their risk of stroke.


The symptoms of a ischemic stroke depend on the part of the brain affected. Common symptoms are a sudden, one-sided muscle weakness of the arm, leg and face, imbalance, slurred speech or difficulty speaking. Some people may have seizures, become drowsy or lose consciousness.


Diagnosis is based on the symptoms, physical examination, and a computed tomography (CT) scan or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of the brain.


Ischemic stroke is an emergency which is managed in hospital. Emergency treatment is given to thin the blood and break up blood clots. Complications, such as seizures, may also need urgent treatment. Long-term treatment involves taking medications to thin the blood, good management of other medical conditions (such as diabetes and high blood pressure), and rehabilitation. Rehabilitation is important to help improve strength and help people learn to manage with any disabilities after their stroke.


Good management of high blood pressure and cholesterol levels may help to prevent ischemic stroke, as may physical exercise and maintaining a healthy weight. Quitting smoking can also help prevent ischemic stroke.