Ischemic Stroke | Neurology & Neurosurgery | Loyola Medicine

Ischemic Stroke

Overview and Facts about Ischemic Stroke

An ischemic stroke is the most common type of stroke, occurring when a blood vessel supplying blood to the brain is blocked. When the blood vessel (or artery) is blocked, brain cells begin to stop working and may die. The cause of the blockage is a development of fatty deposits (lipids) within the vessel wall, resulting in a condition called atherosclerosis.

There are two types of obstructions that can result in an ischemic stroke:

  • Cerebral thrombosis: A blood clot develops in diseased or damaged cerebral arteries. Thrombotic strokes can be either large vessel (the blockage is in a large artery within the brain, most often the carotid or middle cerebral) or small vessel (the blockage is in a smaller artery in the brain).
  • Cerebral embolism: A blood clot develops in another location than the brain, most often the heart or arteries in the neck or upper chest. When these blood clots become stuck in the bloodstream, they restrict the flow of blood to the brain.

Why Choose Loyola for Treatment of Ischemic Stroke?

Loyola Medicine’s stroke specialists are nationally acclaimed for their success in treating stroke patients. The neurology and neurosurgery care at Loyola University Medical Center was nationally ranked by U.S. News & World Report's 2020-21 Best Hospitals list.

Loyola’s Stroke Center has been recognized by the American Stroke Association with its Get with the Guidelines® – Stroke Gold Plus Quality Achievement Award for nine years in a row for our commitment and success in implementing a higher standard of stroke care. Loyola is also the only academic medical center in the Chicago area accredited as a stroke specialty program by CARF (Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities) International. Loyola University Medical Center is certified by The Joint Commission as a comprehensive stroke center.

Causes and Risk Factors of Ischemic Stroke

Ischemic stroke is caused by a narrowing of the arteries in the head or neck. This narrowing can be brought on by atherosclerosis (plaque build-up within an artery). This condition is caused by high cholesterol, high blood pressure and smoking.

Other causes include:

  • Blood clots in the heart, as a result of atrial fibrillation (irregular heartbeat), heart attack or abnormalities in the heart valves
  • Injury to the blood vessels in the neck
  • Blood clotting disorders
  • Intravenous drug usage

Risk factors

  • Age: Most people who have an ischemic stroke are 60 or older
  • Gender: Women are more likely to have an ischemic stroke than men
  • Race: African Americans are more likely than other races
  • High blood pressure
  • Heart disease
  • Smoking
  • Diabetes 

Symptoms and Signs of Ischemic Stroke

It is critical to act at the first signs of stroke. Call 911 immediately if you or a loved one experiences any signs of a stroke or mini-stroke. 

When you and your loved ones know the signs of a stroke, you can receive medical attention sooner. At Loyola, we say, “time equals brain;” the longer it takes to recognize the need for medical help, the more brain cells you may lose. 

Basic signs and symptoms of a stroke include:

  • Confusion, dizziness or unsteadiness that comes on rapidly
  • Difficulty speaking or understanding someone talking
  • Sudden weakness or numbness of the face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body
  • Unexpected, sudden and severe headache or “thunderclap” headache
  • Vision loss that occurs quickly, particularly in one eye

Do not ignore your symptoms, even if they only last five to 10 minutes. If you’ve had just one of these symptoms, you need to be screened right away.

How Is Ischemic Stroke Diagnosed?

Your board-certified neurologist will quickly conduct physical and neurological exams and ask you several questions about your symptoms, checking your:

  • Balance
  • Circulation
  • Comprehension
  • Coordination
  • Muscle strength
  • Muscle tone
  • Reflexes
  • Sense of sight and touch
  • Speech

Your doctor may order some of the following tests:

If you are experiencing a stroke in a hospital other than Loyola, our experts may be asked to consult on your case using our telemedicine tools for stroke. Using remotely controlled robotic systems, Loyola’s stroke experts can help patients at other hospitals, or even in another city, by consulting with the patient’s doctors over the internet. Through telemedicine, our neurologists can speak directly with a patient or a patient’s family. This technology allows our doctors to offer expert medical care and specialty advice to patients anytime, anywhere. Learn more about telemedicine tools for stroke.

Treatment and Care for Ischemic Stroke

Call 911 immediately if you or a loved one experiences any signs of a stroke or mini-stroke. 

Loyola’s expert services cover every aspect of stroke care for patients and their families, including emergency stroke treatment.  Because the first three hours after a stroke are critically important, Loyola’s emergency stroke team is adept at immediately determining the best course of treatment through a variety of testing and diagnostic procedures. Loyola provides round-the-clock stroke care 365 days a year. 

Just after a stroke or mini-stroke, you can expect:

  • If you have a blocked artery, your doctor will recommend that you have a surgery called a carotid endarterectomy.
  • Your Loyola doctor will most likely have you admitted to the hospital for observation and to run tests.
  • You may also receive thrombolytic therapy drug treatments, such as IV tPA (intravenous tissue plasminogen activator), or blood thinners, such as aspirin or Coumadin.
  • Your doctors and nurses will talk with you about how to make lifestyle changes if necessary.
  • You will be encouraged to quit smoking if you are a smoker.

Loyola also offers long-term services for ongoing care following a stroke, including:

  • Acute stroke treatment — When patients have suffered an acute stroke, they may receive 24-hour monitoring and care in Loyola’s acute stroke unit. The acute stroke team works with our patients to identify potential complications, monitor changes in heart and brain function and assess and treat the cause of the stroke. If the patient is in critical condition, care is provided in Loyola’s state-of-the-art neuro intensive care unit.
  • Dedicated inpatient stroke care — The Loyola Stroke Center and neuro intensive care unit are staffed by certified stroke neurologists, hospitalists and nurses who work around the clock, 365 days a year, to detect and respond to the nuances of stroke. Our dedicated clinical neurosciences inpatient facility is a 40-bed unit in which this multidisciplinary team assesses and determines therapies and care for patients with acute ischemic and hemorrhagic strokes, carotid disease and other complex cerebrovascular disorders. Our goal is to provide all patients with the best possible outcome.