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Stroke secondary to atherosclerosis

Contents of this page:


Central nervous system
Central nervous system

Definition    Return to top

Stroke secondary to atherosclerosis refers to loss of neurologic functions (brain attack), which occurs because of atherosclerosis.

Causes    Return to top

Stroke secondary to atherosclerosis affects about 2 out of 1,000 people, or approximately 50% of all those who have strokes.

Atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) occurs when sticky, fatty substances called plaque build up in the inner lining of the arteries. The plaque may slowly block or narrow an artery or trigger a clot (thrombus). Clots can lead to stroke.

Risks for stroke secondary to atherosclerosis include:

Symptoms    Return to top

Exams and Tests    Return to top

Testing is the same as for stroke. Blood tests may show high cholesterol levels.

Other tests and procedures that may be performed include:

Treatment    Return to top

Go to the emergency room as quickly as possible if you believe you have had or may be having a stroke. Stroke is an acute, serious condition that should be treated immediately. The most important factor in effective treatment for stroke is arriving at the hospital as early as possible from the onset of symptoms.

The most effective treatment for stroke is intravenous rtPA. This medicine works to dissolve the clot causing the stroke. If received within 3 hours of the first stroke symptoms, the drug can help prevent permanent problems. There is risk of serious bleeding with this treatment so it cannot be used in all cases. 

Patients who can't be treated with clot-busting drugs will receive supportive treatments such as medicines to control blood pressure and high cholesterol, fluids, and medicines to prevent complications such as infections.

Patients may also need physical therapy following stroke. Diet changes may be recommended.

A carotid endarterectomy (removal of plaque from the carotid arteries) may be needed by some people to prevent new strokes.

Outlook (Prognosis)    Return to top

Twenty-five percent of people who have a stroke recover most or all of their function.

However, stroke and its complications can cause death.

Possible Complications    Return to top

When to Contact a Medical Professional    Return to top

Go to the emergency room or call the local emergency number (such as 911) if symptoms occur indicating a stroke.

Prevention    Return to top

The prevention of stroke secondary to atherosclerosis includes control of risk factors. Hypertension, diabetes, heart disease, and other risk factors should be treated as appropriate.

If you smoke, you should stop.

Treatment of TIA can prevent some strokes.

Aspirin therapy (81mg a day or 100mg every other day) is now recommended for stroke prevention in women under 65 as long as the benefits outweigh the risks. It should be considered for women over age 65 only if their blood pressure is controlled and the benefit is greater than the risk of gastrointestinal bleeding and brain hemorrhage.

References    Return to top

Mosca L, Banka CL, Benjamin EJ, et al. Evidence-Based Guidelines for Cardiovascular Disease Prevention in Women: 2007 Update. Circulation. 2007; Published online before print February 19, 2007.

Update Date: 2/20/2007

Updated by: Updated by: A.D.A.M. Editorial Team: Greg Juhn, M.T.P.W., David R. Eltz, Kelli A. Stacy. Previously reviewed by Daniel Kantor, M.D., Director of the Comprehensive MS Center, Neuroscience Institute, University of Florida Health Science Center, Jacksonville, FL. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. (April 2006)

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