Strokes result from disrupted blood flow to the brain. The type of disruption determines the type of stroke. Risk factors like diabetes and high blood pressure increase the chances of this disruption.

A stroke, sometimes called a “brain attack,” is a disruption of blood flow to the brain. Some strokes result from a blood clot, while others occur when a blood vessel in the brain bursts.

Knowing what causes different types of strokes and how to manage your risk factors may help you reduce your chances of having a stroke.

What are the three types of strokes?

The three main types of stroke are:

  • ischemic stroke: a blocked artery disrupts blood flow to your brain
  • hemorrhagic stroke: leaked blood from a ruptured artery compresses your brain tissue
  • transient ischemic attack (ministroke): a temporary blockage of blood to your brain

Ischemic and hemorrhagic strokes can lead to severe, possibly life threatening outcomes without prompt treatment. A TIA can significantly increase your chance of a major stroke.

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Ischemic strokes are the most common type of stroke, accounting for 87% of all strokes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

An ischemic stroke occurs when a blockage in an artery within the brain or one of the carotid arteries, which carry blood up each side of the neck, cuts off blood flow to part of the brain. The blockage is often a blood clot.

Plaque, a buildup of cholesterol and other fatty deposits in an artery, may also narrow the blood vessel to the point where healthy circulation is no longer possible.

A blocked artery in the brain or in a vessel supplying blood to the brain can also cause a TIA. With a TIA, however, regular blood flow is restored in minutes. This is because the blood clot or other blockage dissolves or moves along in the bloodstream, causing no further damage.

Also called a ministroke, a TIA often lasts around 5 minutes or less, but symptoms may come and go for up to 24 hours. Because of this short duration, a TIA isn’t likely to cause any permanent brain damage. However, about 10–15% of people who have a TIA go on to have a major stroke within 3 months.

A hemorrhagic stroke occurs when a blood vessel in or around your brain ruptures suddenly. It may be due to high blood pressure that weakens the wall of the artery. Other possible causes include:

  • aneurysm (bulge in an artery wall)
  • circulatory disease
  • head injury

Leaked blood from the ruptured artery compresses your brain tissue, increasing pressure within your brain and causing damage.

The main risk factors for stroke are those that can directly harm the health and function of your blood vessels. Among the more common stroke risk factors are:

Stroke risk factors in males vs. females

Males and females share most of the same stroke risk factors. However, research suggests lifetime risk and how much specific factors affect the risk differs between the two groups.

A 2022 study suggests that the lifetime risk of stroke is slightly higher for females than it is for males. The study also suggests that diabetes and hypertension are more strongly linked to ischemic stroke in women compared with men.

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Can a healthy person have a stroke?

Anyone at any age can have a stroke, though brain attacks are much more common in older adults. The CDC reports that only about 1 in 7 people who have a stroke are under the age of 50 years.

What causes stroke in young adults?

Circulatory diseases or structural anomalies in the heart present from birth can affect stroke risk in young adults. However, a 2023 study investigating the rise in stroke among younger people suggests that the main causes and risk factors of stroke in this population include many of the same ones affecting older adults: obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol.

Does your body warn you before a stroke?

Unlike aura, which can be a warning sign that a migraine is coming, there are no comparable alerts that you’re about to have a stroke. The first indications of a stroke are early symptoms, such as:

  • arm weakness (typically only in one arm)
  • face drooping (usually just one side)
  • speaking difficulties and trouble understanding the speech of others

Ischemic strokes and transient ischemic attacks (TIAs) result from a blocked artery that supplies blood to your brain, though the blockage is less severe in a TIA. A ruptured artery in or around the brain causes a hemorrhagic stroke.

Risk factors like obesity, diabetes, and high blood pressure can increase the chances of a blocked or ruptured artery. Activities like smoking can also contribute. If you have any stroke risk factors, it’s important to take them seriously and work with your healthcare team to manage them as much as possible.

A stroke isn’t always preventable. If one does occur, prompt treatment is essential to improving your outlook. The sooner healthcare professionals can restore healthy circulation in your brain, the more likely you are to minimize complications and long-term disability.