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Home Stroke Types

The Different Types of Stroke

A stroke occurs when the blood supply to part of the brain is disrupted or cut off.  There are two main types of stroke, plus a third known as a mini-stroke. 

Speed is of the essence if you are concerned that you or a relative may be having a stroke. Dial 999 for an ambulance because the sooner a diagnosis is made and treatment started, the less long-term damage may occur.  We explain all three types of stroke here.  All three have similar symptoms and signs to look out for and you may find the acronym FAST a good way to remember them:

Face: numbness in the face (one side may drop, one eye or one side of the mouth)

Arms: ability to raise both arms above the head

Speech: maybe confused or garbled

Time: to call 999

100,000 people experience a stroke in the UK every year, and whilst many recover fully and relatively quickly, for others it can be a life-changing event.  So the motto be prepared is good advice.

An Ischaemic stroke is the most common type, accounting for 80% of all strokes.  It occurs when a blood clot forms to block the flow of blood and oxygen to the brain.  Arteries may become narrower or blocked – called atherosclerosis – which happens with age.  

Whilst narrowed or blocked arteries are the main cause, others include:

  • High blood pressure
  • Diabetes
  • High cholesterol
  • Obesity
  • Smoking and/or excessive alcohol consumption

On arrival in hospital there will be both physical tests as well as scans to help determine whether or not it is an Ischaemic stroke.  Because an ischaemic stroke is caused by a blood clot it will be important for the medical staff to know what medication may already be being taken, particularly  anticoagulants such as warfarin.  You can find out more about Ischaemic strokes, diagnosis, treatment and recovery in this full guide.

When a blood vessel bursts and bleeds into the brain, it is called a haemorrhagic stroke.  Less common than an Ischaemic stroke, they can also be caused by a brain aneurysm which happens when a blood vessel expands.

High blood pressure is often the cause because it weakens the arteries which then become more likely to burst or rupture. High blood pressure is caused by a number of factors including stress, lack of exercise, excess weight, smoking and excess alcohol. 

The symptoms of a haemorrhagic stroke are the same as those for an Ischaemic stroke. 

Tests to confirm that a haemorrhagic stroke has occurred will benefit those who can be prescribed medication to quickly clear blood clots or anticoagulent treatment to stop future blood clotting.

Tests are also important for those who may be unable to communicate as a result of the stroke, or those who already taking blood thinners or anti- coagulents such as warfarin. 

The initial physical tests for a haemorrhagic stroke will include:

  • Blood pressure – a standard test to check the levels of blood pressure
  • Blood test – to check cholesterol levels and blood sugar levels
  • Pulse check – to check for irregular heartbeat 

We have more information about haemorrhagic strokes, diagnosis, tests, treatment and recovery which you can read here.

Also known as a mini-stroke, the symptoms of a Transient Ischaemic attack (TIA) are the same as both other types of stroke, but tend to only last a short time – minutes/hours – before disappearing.   Most strokes are caused by a blockage cutting off the blood supply to part of the brain. The only difference when a person has a TIA is that the blockage is temporary – it either dissolves on its own or moves, so that the blood supply returns to normal and symptoms disappear.

There is no way to tell whether a person is having a TIA or a stroke when the symptoms first start.  One in ten people who have a TIA go on to have a stroke, within weeks, so it is important to take it as seriously as a potential stroke and seek urgent medical assistance.

You can find out about treatment and recovery from Strokes, as well as local organisations that can help.