What is an Embolic Stroke?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
The human brain, including blood vessels that can be involved in a stroke.
The human brain, including blood vessels that can be involved in a stroke.

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.

A diagram of an embolic stroke, which is a type of ischemic stroke, and a hemorrhagic stroke.
A diagram of an embolic stroke, which is a type of ischemic stroke, and a hemorrhagic stroke.

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.

Blood clots are the cause of embolic strokes.
Blood clots are the cause of embolic strokes.

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.

Blood thinners are commonly prescribed to treat ischemic strokes.
Blood thinners are commonly prescribed to treat ischemic strokes.

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.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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    • The human brain, including blood vessels that can be involved in a stroke.
      By: adimas
      The human brain, including blood vessels that can be involved in a stroke.
    • A diagram of an embolic stroke, which is a type of ischemic stroke, and a hemorrhagic stroke.
      By: Alila
      A diagram of an embolic stroke, which is a type of ischemic stroke, and a hemorrhagic stroke.
    • Blood clots are the cause of embolic strokes.
      By: clearviewstock
      Blood clots are the cause of embolic strokes.
    • Blood thinners are commonly prescribed to treat ischemic strokes.
      By: JPC-PROD
      Blood thinners are commonly prescribed to treat ischemic strokes.