Embolic Stroke: Symptoms, Treatments, and Long-Term Outlook
What Is an Embolic Stroke?
Ischemic strokes are caused by blood clots. There are two types of ischemic strokes: embolic and thrombotic. An embolic stroke occurs when a blood clot that forms elsewhere in the body (embolus) breaks loose and travels to the brain via the bloodstream. Eventually, the clot lodges in a blood vessel and blocks the flow of blood, causing a stroke.
The other type of ischemic stroke is thrombotic stroke, which occurs when a blood clot impairs blood flow in an artery that supplies blood to the brain.
How Does It Happen?
Blood clots that cause embolic stroke can form anywhere, but they usually come from the heart or arteries of the upper chest and neck. After breaking free, the clot travels through the bloodstream to the brain. When it enters a blood vessel that’s too small to allow it to pass, the clot becomes stuck in place, blocking the flow of blood to the brain.
Emboli can form from air bubbles, fat globules, or plaque from an artery wall. Emboli can also result from abnormal heartbeat (atrial fibrillation), a condition in which the heart doesn’t beat effectively, causing blood to pool and clot.
What Are the Symptoms?
Stroke happens suddenly, often without warning. When symptoms do occur, they vary, depending on which part of the brain is affected.
Signs of stroke include:
- sudden numbness in the face, an arm, or a leg
- difficulty speaking or understanding words
- vision loss in one or both eyes
- loss of balance
- trouble walking
Emergency Treatment for Embolic Stroke
Embolic stroke is a life-threatening condition in which every second counts. Blood flow to the brain must be restored as quickly as possible. This may be accomplished with oral or intravenous clot-busting medications. Your doctor may use a catheter to deliver drugs directly to your brain or to remove the clot.
To help prevent additional strokes, a surgeon can open arteries that have been narrowed by plaque. This procedure is called carotid endarterectomy. Stents are sometimes used to keep an artery open.
Long-Term Treatment for Embolic Stroke
After the crisis has passed, treatment revolves around regaining strength and recovering function that has been lost. Specific treatments will depend on the area of the brain involved and the extent of the damage.
You will probably need ongoing outpatient care, medication, and close monitoring for some time after a stroke. In the event that you can’t care for yourself, a nursing home or rehabilitation program may be in order.
The risk of a stroke recurring is highest immediately following a stroke, and lessens over time. About three percent of people who have a stroke will have another within 30 days. About a third will experience another stroke within two years, and about 25 percent will have another within five years, according to Wexler Medical Center. The risk of serious disability, coma, or death increases with each stroke.
Quality of life depends upon the extent of the damage. Specialists such as speech, language, physical, occupational, and recreational therapists can help you recover some lost function.
Who Is at Risk for Embolic Stroke?
The risk for embolic stroke is higher in people who have heart disease or who have had heart surgery. According to Wexler Medical Center, atrial fibrillation accounts for about 15 percent of embolic strokes. People with a family history of stroke, or who have previously suffered a mini-stroke (transient ischemic attack) are at greater risk.
Other risk factors for embolic stroke include:
- older age
- high blood pressure
- high cholesterol
- some autoimmune diseases
- alcohol and drug abuse
Is There Anything I Can Do to Prevent Stroke?
Absolutely. Some risk factors, like heredity, can’t be changed. But you can control high-risk behaviors like smoking and abusing alcohol or other drugs.
Visit your doctor regularly if you have high cholesterol, diabetes, or a chronic autoimmune disease. Monitor your condition and follow your doctor’s recommendations. A healthy diet and regular exercise can lower risk of stroke.
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- Stroke treatments and drugs. (2012, July 3). Mayo Clinic. Retrieved January 9, 2014 from http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/stroke/basics/treatment/con-20042884
- Types of stroke. (n.d.). National Stroke Association. Retrieved January 9, 2014 from http://www.stroke.org/site/PageServer?pagename=type
- Types of stroke. (n.d.). The Ohio State University Wexler Medical Center. Retrieved January 9, 2014 from http://medicalcenter.osu.edu/patientcare/healthcare_services/stroke/types/Pages/index.aspx
- Types of stroke. (n.d.). University Hospital Newark, New Jersey. Retrieved January 9, 2014 from http://www.uhnj.org/stroke/types.htm