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What is a Stroke?

Shepherd Center’s Brain Injury Rehabilitation Program Medical Director, Andrew Dennison, M.D., answers common questions about stroke symptoms and treatment.

What is a stroke?

A stroke occurs when a blood vessel that carries oxygen and nutrients to the brain is either blocked by a clot or bursts (AKA ruptures). When this occurs, brain cells are deprived of oxygen and begin to die. When brain cells die during a stroke, abilities controlled by that area of the brain, such as language or muscle control, are lost. How a person is affected by a stroke depends on the severity and the location of the brain where the injury occurs.

There are two types of stroke: ischemic and hemorrhagic.

  • Ischemic stroke occurs when there is a blockage in a brain artery. The brain tissue that is supplied by the blocked artery can become damaged or die. They are the most common type of stroke and occur in over 80% of all strokes.
  • Hemorrhagic stroke is caused by bleeding in the brain. The blood can put pressure on surrounding brain tissue and damage it. Hemorrhagic strokes occur in 15 to 20% of all strokes.


How does a stroke affect mobility or cognitive function?

The impact of a stroke can vary widely.

The majority of the brain is divided into two hemispheres. The right hemisphere controls the left side of the body, along with skills like spatial awareness and aspects relating to insight. A stroke on the right side of the brain can impair these skills or cause weakness or paralysis on the left side of the body. Alternatively, a stroke occurring in the left hemisphere of the brain may cause weakness or paralysis on the right side of the body and difficulty understanding and expressing written and spoken language. Additionally, if an individual has a stroke further down in the brainstem or cerebellum, they may experience problems with balance, coordination, vision, and body and facial muscle movement and sensation.

While any variety of functions can be affected, with 80% of stroke survivors experiencing weakness or paralysis, rehabilitation hospitals or clinics like Shepherd Center can optimize the recovery process and return patients to the highest level of function possible.

What is the best way to prevent a stroke?

According to the CDC, 80% of strokes are preventable. Risk factors like high blood pressure, obesity, tobacco use, and diabetes can increase your risk of stroke. Working toward a healthy lifestyle with physical activity and a healthy diet may help reduce your risk of stroke.

How is a stroke treated?

The earlier a stroke can be treated by medical professionals, the better. Knowing stroke signs and symptoms can save your life or someone else’s. The trick to remembering these signs and symptoms of a stroke is the acronym “BEFAST,” which stands for balance, eye, face, arm, speech, and time. New technologies are constantly developing and if administered in the first critical hours after symptoms develop, these technologies may give an individual with stroke a markedly improved chance of a better recovery.

Following emergency treatment, stroke survivors can have complex and unique rehabilitation needs. Because stroke therapy may look different for each person, it’s important to plan individualized, person-centered care for stroke patients based on their health and recovery goals. Specialists may design a rehabilitation plan for ischemic stroke treatment or hemorrhagic stroke treatment. 

Visit our website to learn more about Shepherd Center’s approach to stroke treatment and rehabilitation. 

About Shepherd Center

Shepherd Center provides world-class clinical care, research, and family support for people experiencing the most complex conditions, including spinal cord and brain injuries, multi-trauma, traumatic amputations, stroke, multiple sclerosis, and pain. An elite center recognized as both Spinal Cord Injury and Traumatic Brain Injury Model Systems, Shepherd Center is ranked by U.S. News as one of the nation’s top hospitals for rehabilitation. Shepherd Center treats thousands of patients annually with unmatched expertise and unwavering compassion to help them begin again.