What is an Embolic Stroke?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 10 December 2018
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An embolic stroke is a disturbance in the supply of blood to the brain that is caused by a clot. The clot blocks the brain's supply of blood, leading to ischemia, where brain cells start to die because they are not getting enough oxygen. Individuals of all ages can develop embolic strokes, although some people are at a higher risk than others. People can reduce their risk of embolic stroke by eating a balanced diet, exercising, keeping their blood pressure low, and seeking prompt medical attention for medical problems as they arise.

This stroke is classified as an ischemic stroke because it involves depriving brain cells of oxygen. Most commonly, the clot is a cluster of blood cells from somewhere else in the body, particularly the heart. Cancer cells, fat cells, and mats of bacteria can also form emboli. In all cases, the clot of material travels through the blood supply and ends up in one of the vessels that supplies the brain. Blood cannot pass the clot or only moves past very slowly, and the brain cells supplied by that vessel do not receive adequate oxygen.

People with cardiovascular disease are at increased risk for embolic stroke. Patients recovering from heart surgery are also at risk, as are people with clotting disorders. Such strokes can also develop after a biopsy or another procedure that disturbs cancerous cells or bacteria colonies.


The onset of symptoms with an embolic stroke can be very sudden. Patients can experience blurred vision, confusion, nausea, altered level of consciousness, muscle pain and weakness, poor coordination, drooping facial muscles, and slurred speech. The more quickly a patient is treated, the more likely prevention of damage will be. The prognosis for recovery is greatly improved by receiving rapid intervention during a stroke, especially if patients are transported immediately to a specialty stroke unit with care providers that focus on providing stroke care.

Diagnosis of stroke usually includes a neurological examination and medical imaging studies. If an embolic stroke is suspected, medications to break up the clot will be administered as quickly as possible. Once the patient is stabilized and recovering, doctors can perform assessments to check for permanent damage caused by the stroke. Some patients may need to go into rehabilitation after a stroke. Patients in rehab can learn to speak, walk, eat, and perform other activities if the stroke damaged the areas of the brain involved in these processes.



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