What is an Ischemic Stroke?| MedStar Health

What is an ischemic stroke?

One way a stroke occurs is when blood vessels to the brain become narrowed or clogged, cutting off blood flow to brain cells. A stroke caused by lack of blood reaching part of the brain is called an ischemic (is-KEM-ik) stroke.

Transient Ischemic Attacks

A transient ischemic attack has the same origins as an ischemic stroke, but the blockage is only temporary and blood flow returns to normal and the symptoms only last approximately one hour.  A transient ischemic attack (TIA) is sometimes referred to as a “mini stroke” and can be an early warning that a stroke is coming. It usually does not cause any lasting damage, but it should be taken very seriously, since your risk for stroke increases. It is an opportunity to prevent a stroke. Up to 40% of patients with a TIA will have a stroke. 

How are ischemic strokes treated?

You may have a few diagnostic tests before your doctor determines that you had an ischemic stroke.


Tissue Plasminogen Activator (tPA) is often used to treat an ischemic stroke. Treatment with tPA restores blood flow and oxygen to the parts of the brain affected by a stroke, helping to prevent further damage. To be effective, tPA must be given within 4.5 hours from when stroke symptoms first appear. Medication may also be used to treat brain swelling that sometimes occurs after a stroke.

Mechanical Thrombectomy – Intra-arterial mechanical thrombectomy is a treatment that uses a catheter containing a stent retriever or clot suction device. The catheter is placed within an artery to the brain and guided to the clot that is causing the stroke symptoms. This stent retriever device can restore blood flow to the brain by capturing and removing the clot blocking the large artery.

Medications – You may be given medications to prevent your blood from forming clots. Medications to lower fat in your blood are also used.

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