Overview

Overview

Northwestern Medicine offers the most advanced levels of certification for stroke programs. Our goal is to treat patients as soon as possible to improve the likelihood they will have a positive outcome after their stroke. We offer eight hospitals accredited by the Joint Commission as providing advanced levels of stroke care, including two Comprehensive Stroke Centers.

What is stroke?

A stroke or “brain attack” occurs when blood flow to brain tissue is disrupted. This can happen one of two ways:

  1. A clot develops in a blood vessel that carries blood from the heart to the brain, preventing blood from reaching brain cells (ischemic stroke)
  2. A blood vessel in the brain ruptures, causing blood to leak into the brain (hemorrhagic stroke)

When either of these things happens, brain cells begin to die, and brain damage occurs. When brain cells die during a stroke, abilities controlled by that area of the brain are lost. These abilities might include speech, movement and memory. How a stroke affects a patient depends on where the stroke occurred in the brain and how much the brain was damaged.

A stroke is a medical emergency. If you suspect a stroke, call 911 right away and report the stroke symptoms. Early treatment can make a huge difference in recovery after stroke.

There are three kinds of strokes

Transient ischemic attack (TIA): A TIA occurs when a blood clot blocks an artery for a short period. This may be called a “minor stroke.” The symptoms of a TIA are like a stroke, but usually last only a few minutes.

Ischemic stroke: An ischemic stroke occurs when blood flow to the brain is narrowed or blocked. There are two types of blockages caused by blood clots:

  • Thrombus: A thrombus is a blood clot that occurs in an artery that leads to the brain. This clot is often formed in an artery that is damaged by fatty deposits, or plaque.
  • Embolus: An embolus is a blood clot that is formed elsewhere in the body, usually the heart or neck arteries. If it breaks loose, it is carried by the blood towards the brain until it blocks the blood flow to the brain.

Treatment for ischemic stroke is centered on minimizing brain injury. A drug called tPA, often known as a “clot buster,” is helpful when given within several hours of the first symptoms of a stroke.

Once the cause of your stroke is known, preventive medicine may be prescribed. Anti-platelet medicines such as aspirin, and anticoagulants such as warfarin can help prevent another clot from forming.

Hemorrhagic stroke: A hemorrhagic stroke occurs when a blood vessel ruptures in or near the brain. This causes bleeding. Chronic high blood pressure or aging blood vessels are the main causes of this type of stroke. Treatment includes close monitoring. In some cases, surgery is needed to relieve pressure around the brain.