Blood Vessels That Can Be Affected by a Stroke

A stroke occurs when blood flow to the brain is either interrupted or decreased. When a blood vessel is blocked or damaged due to a leak or rupture, this causes the blood supply for that area to slow down or stop.

Blood carries oxygen and nutrients through blood vessels called arteries. Any compromise in arterial blood flow in the brain deprives it of necessary oxygen and nutrients. This causes a loss of function of the portion of the brain supplied by a particular artery. A stroke manifests as a group of symptoms caused by the loss of function of a portion of the brain.

The part of the brain affected by a stroke corresponds to a particular blood vessel. The blood vessels that supply the brain follow a well-defined pattern. Some areas in the brain may receive blood from more than one blood vessel, but usually, one blood vessel provides the majority of blood to a particular brain region.

The following is a list of blood vessels that, when injured, cause a stroke.

Artwork of cerebral embolism, cause of stroke

JOHN BAVOSI / SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY / Getty Images

Blood Vessels of the Brain 

Carotid arteries: The carotid arteries are in the front of the neck and provide the majority of blood supply to the brain, particularly the front of the brain. Carotid arteries are in the neck, so they are more accessible than blood vessels in the brain itself. This allows doctors to evaluate the health of the carotid arteries using equipment such as Doppler ultrasound to see whether the carotid arteries are narrow or have large amounts of cholesterol build-up. Carotid arteries are also much more accessible for surgical repair than blood vessels located deep in the brain.

Vertebral arteries: The vertebral arteries are in the back of the neck and supply blood to the back of the brain. The vertebral arteries provide blood to a relatively small, but important portion of the brain, the brainstem. This is the part of the brain that controls life-sustaining functions such as breathing and regulating the heart.

Basilar artery: The basilar artery is the merging of the vertebral arteries farther up and deeper in the brain. It also provides blood to the brainstem, which controls eye movements and life-sustaining functions. Because the basilar artery is one of the blood vessels supplying both sides of the brain, a blockage in this artery can be especially devastating.

Anterior cerebral artery: The left and right anterior cerebral arteries are branches of the left and right carotid arteries, respectively, and they provide blood to the frontal region of the brain, which controls behavior and thoughts.

Middle cerebral artery: The middle cerebral arteries are branches of the left and right carotid artery, respectively. The middle cerebral arteries provide blood to the areas of the brain that control movement. There is one middle cerebral artery on each side of the brain.

Posterior cerebral artery: The posterior cerebral arteries branch off of the basilar artery. The right posterior cerebral artery supplies blood to the far-back-right region of the brain and the left posterior cerebral artery provides blood to the far-back-left region of the brain.

Posterior communicating artery: The posterior communicating artery allows blood to flow between the right and left posterior cerebral arteries. This provides a protective effect. When one of the posterior cerebral arteries becomes a little narrow, the posterior communicating artery can compensate for mild narrowing by providing blood from the other side, like a tunnel or a bridge.

Anterior communicating artery: The anterior communicating artery is a connection between the right and left anterior cerebral arteries. This blood vessel, like the posterior communicating artery, offers a protective effect by allowing the sharing of blood supply from the other side. The communicating arteries form part of a ring of vessels in the brain called the Circle of Willis.

Ophthalmic: The ophthalmic arteries supply blood to the eyes and therefore provide important nutrients for vision and eye movement.

Retinal: The retinal arteries are tiny blood vessels that provide blood to the retina, the part of the back of the eye responsible for sight.

When any area of the brain lacks sufficient blood supply, a stroke may occur. The arteries listed above are the primary blood vessels in the brain that are generally visible on a computed tomography angiography (CTA) or magnetic resonance angiogram (MRA) scan, but the smaller branches also can become blocked, and these tend to be less visible via imaging.

A person's symptoms can help healthcare providers determine the location of the stroke and which blood vessel is affected. This aides in the long-term and short-term treatment and recovery plan.

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  1. Johns Hopkins Medicine. Effects of stroke. Accessed January 14, 2021.