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UR Medicine / Stroke Center / What is a Stroke/TIA?

What is a Stroke/TIA?

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A stroke (otherwise known as a brain attack) occurs when brain cells die due to disruption of blood flow to the brain.

Stroke can be caused by either a blocked blood vessel (ischemic stroke) or a leaky blood vessel (hemorrhagic stroke) in the brain. Ischemic stroke is more common; hemorrhagic stroke is less frequent but can be more dangerous. Depending on the region of the brain affected, symptoms can include difficulty using or understanding language, slurring of speech, weakness or numbness of the arm, face, and/or leg (usually on one side), loss of vision or double vision, headache, and/or loss of consciousness. These symptoms usually occur suddenly without warning.

However, about 1/4 of patients do experience a warning called a Transient Ischemic Attack (a TIA or a mini-stroke). A TIA does not leave permanent damage, but warns of an impending more serious stroke. It is therefore important that TIAs are treated urgently to prevent future strokes.

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Identifying the Cause

Stroke treatment and prevention is based upon finding the reason for disrupted blood flow.

The most common first test is a CT scan to identify the type of stroke (ischemic or hemorrhagic), followed by a CT angiogram to look for areas of blockage or potential weakness in the blood vessels of the brain, and the blood vessels in the neck that lead to the brain. Blocked or weakened arteries may require urgent treatment. Other tests such as an MRI, heart monitoring, echocardiogram (ultrasound of the heart) and special blood tests may be done to look for further causes of stroke and to determine what urgent and/or long-term treatments are best for patients.