What is an Acute Stroke?

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  • Written By: J.M. Willhite
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 19 September 2019
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An acute stroke is a potentially life-threatening cerebrovascular event in which the brain is temporarily deprived of oxygen. Marked by a momentary disruption in blood flow, an acute stroke necessitates immediate medical attention and, if left untreated, may result in permanent disability or death. Generally associated with arterial obstruction, treatment is dependent on the stroke's cause and usually involves the initial administration of medication to stabilize the individual's condition. Subsequent treatment for an acute stroke may necessitate surgical measures to reduce one's chance for recurrent stroke.

A preliminary diagnosis of acute stroke is determined by several diagnostic tests. An assessment of neurological function is usually performed to evaluate the individual's sensory, motor, and cognitive abilities. Initial physical assessments generally warrant imaging tests, including a computerized tomography (CT) scan, of the brain to pinpoint the stroke's origin and confirm a diagnosis. Additional diagnostic testing, such as an echocardiogram and carotid ultrasound, may be performed to evaluate the extent of arterial narrowing or other potential, contributory factors.

Several situations may contribute to the onset of a stroke. A blockage that travels to the brain or forms within the carotid artery, respectively known as an embolism or thrombosis, may impair blood flow resulting in an acute ischemic stroke. Bleeding within the brain, or a hemorrhage, may also cause an acute stroke. Depending on the location and severity of bleeding, a hemorrhagic stroke may be aneurysmal in origin or result from chronic hypertension.


Obesity and a sedentary lifestyle significantly increase one’s chance for an acute stroke. Individuals diagnosed with certain chronic conditions, such as diabetes and hypertension, are often considered to possess an elevated risk for stroke, also known as a cerebrovascular accident. Engaging in risky or unhealthy behaviors that promote arterial constriction, such as smoking, may also contribute to circumstances that lead to stroke.

Symptoms of a stroke are usually patterned in presentation, but may vary in severity and duration. Some people suddenly develop impaired motor skills, coordination, and cognition. Frequently, an acute stroke also induces unilateral weakness or paralysis affecting one’s limbs, meaning, one side of the body loses function. The duration and severity of the stroke usually determines whether temporary or permanent disability occurs.

An acute ischemic stroke often requires the use of oral and intravenous drugs designed to ease blood vessel constriction and thin the blood. Surgery, including carotid angioplasty, may be performed to remove the arterial blockage responsible for the interrupted blood flow. If the stroke is hemorrhagic, more extensive treatment is usually necessary to reduce swelling and minimize bleeding, including neurosurgery to repair the injured vessel.

The duration and course of post-stroke rehabilitation and recovery is entirely dependent on the location and severity of the acute stroke. If the cerebrovascular accident was severe, the individual may have permanently lost some system function, such as the ability to move one's bowels independently. Some individuals may require therapy to try to restore use, strength, and function to affected areas. Several factors, including overall health and age, are generally considered when developing a comprehensive program to suit the individual’s rehabilitative needs.


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