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What is a Stroke?

Posted on September 8, 2020 in Stroke

know the signs of stroke. BEFAST.

Learn about types of stroke and the importance of seeking medical attention

A stroke occurs when the blood flow to an area of the brain in interrupted by a blocked or broken blood vessel. Blood can no longer travel to the affected area, and cells begin to die. Without prompt medical treatment, larger areas of the brain will also die.

Strokes are either ischemic or hemorrhagic. Ischemic stroke, the more common of the two, occurs when a blood vessel that supplies the brain becomes blocked. This affects blood flow to part of the brain, and the brain cells and tissues start to die within minutes from lack of oxygen and nutrients.

Fort Sanders Regional Medical Center neurologist Kathleen A. Ward, DO, stresses the importance of seeking immediate medical attention when exhibiting symptoms of stroke. “It is critical to visit the nearest emergency room if you think you’re having a stroke. We need to quickly diagnose the stroke and start treatment to prevent any further brain cell loss. The best place for you to be if you’re having a stroke is the hospital.”

Ischemic Strokes

Ischemic strokes are further broken down into two types: thrombotic and embolic:

  • Thrombotic strokes are caused by a blood clot (thrombus) that develops in the arteries supplying blood to the brain. Older people, especially those with diabetes or high cholesterol and a buildup of fat and lipids inside the walls of blood vessels (atherosclerosis), are more susceptible to this type of stroke.
  • Embolic strokes are usually caused by a blood clot that forms elsewhere in the body (embolus) and travels through the bloodstream to the brain. These strokes are often caused by heart disease or heart surgery and they happen quickly, without any warning signs.

“Patients are more at risk for serious health conditions, including strokes, when they do not live a healthy lifestyle,” Dr. Ward says. “While we will take excellent care of you if you do have a stroke, the best treatment is prevention.”

Hemorrhagic Strokes

The other category of stroke, hemorrhagic, is caused by bleeding that occurs when a blood vessel that supplies the brain ruptures. When this bleeding occurs, brain cells and tissues don’t get oxygen and nutrients, and pressure builds up in surrounding tissues, which can lead to more brain damage. Hemorrhagic strokes also are broken up into two different types: intracerebral and subarachnoid.

  • Intracerebral hemorrhage is when the bleeding is from blood vessels within the brain.
  • Subarachnoid hemorrhage is when the bleeding is in the space between the brain and the membranes that cover the brain (subarachnoid space).
The region's only network of stroke-certified hospitals all lead to one.

Strokes result in lost or impaired mental and physical abilities that once were controlled by the brain. The degree of recovery for each patient depends on the amount of brain cells killed. The more time the brain goes without oxygen and nutrients, the more devastating the effects of stroke can be.

Fort Sanders Regional Medical Center is the hub of our region’s only stroke hospital network and is recognized by the Joint Commission, the American Heart Association and the American Stroke Association as a Joint Commission Comprehensive Stroke Center. This means the hospital is part of an elite group of healthcare providers who provide dedicated, highly specialized care.

Dr. Ward, who joined Covenant Health in 2019, says she is proud to be part of Covenant Health’s stroke hospital network. “Our team is ready to provide life-saving care if you or your loved one suffers a stroke.”

For more information about stroke treatment at Fort Sanders Regional, visit

Read a stroke patient’s success story at Fort Sanders Regional.