Cerebral Vascular Accidents or Strokes

A cerebral vascular accident is another name for a stroke or "brain attack." Strokes are caused by a disruption of the blood supply to a part of the brain, and the culprit is either a blood clot or ruptured artery. Once blood flow is blocked, the affected area of your brain doesn't get the nutrients and oxygen it needs. As a result, brain cells may die and cause long-term damage.

If you think you're having a stroke, this is a very serious medical emergency and you should call 9-1-1 immediately.

Woman with a headache
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Two Types of Stroke

There are two types of stroke: ischemic stroke and hemorrhagic stroke.

Ischemic stroke: You have an ischemic stroke when a blood clot blocks your brain's blood supply. This can occur when a clot forms in an already narrow artery, a clot breaks off from another part of your body and travels to your brain, or when a sticky substance in your body called plaque causes the clog.

Hemorrhagic stroke: If a blood vessel in your brain weakens and breaks open, blood leaks to your brain causing a hemorrhagic stroke. This is more likely to occur if:

  • You have pre-existing blood vessel defects, including an aneurysm or arteriovenous malformation 
  • You are taking blood thinners such as Coumadin (warfarin)
  • Your blood pressure gets so high your blood vessels burst
  • You have an ischemic stroke that then turns it into a hemorrhagic stroke

Risk Factors 

The main risk factor for having a stroke is high blood pressure or hypertension. Other factors include​:

  • Diabetes
  • High cholesterol
  • African-American heritage
  • Family history
  • Lifestyle choices, such as smoking cigarettes, eating a diet high in saturated fat, and not getting enough exercise

How to Know If You're Having a Stroke

Sometimes you won't even know you've had a stroke, but most of the time the symptoms develop suddenly and without warning.

Occasionally, symptoms will occur on and off for one or two days. They're typically worst when the stroke happens but may gradually get worse as time goes on.

What symptoms you have and their severity depend on how serious your stroke is and in what part of the brain it occurs. You may notice:

  • Numbness or tingling on one side of your body
  • Weakness on one side of your body
  • Trouble walking
  • Eyesight issues, including double vision or varying degrees of vision loss
  • Changes in hearing or taste
  • Difficulty reading or writing


Get to the hospital as quickly as possible for medical treatment, because your survival and future quality of life depends on it.

At the hospital, you will probably receive a clot-busting drug if a clot is causing your stroke, and if your symptoms started within the last three to four and a half hours. The sooner you begin treatment, the better your chances of having a good outcome.

Other treatment options include:

  • Blood-thinning medication, such as aspirin, Plavix (clopidogrel), or Coumadin (warfarin)
  • Medication to control your risk factors
  • A procedure or surgery to prevent more strokes or alleviate your symptoms
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Article Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. American Stroke Association. Stroke risk factors.

  2. U.S. National Institutes of Health. MedlinePlus. Stroke. Last reviewed May 4, 2018.

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