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Embolic Stroke: Symptoms & Treatment

Instructor: Adrianne Baron

Adrianne has taught high school and college biology and has a master's degree in cancer biology.

In this lesson, we will discuss some of the details about an embolic stroke such as the symptoms that are commonly associated with having an embolic stroke. We will also look at the treatment options that are used.

Embolic Stroke

The roles in your life have reversed. You are now going to be your mom's main caretaker since she suffered an embolic stroke. One of the things that you learned through this experience is that an embolic stroke is a loss of blood supply to the brain due to an embolus, a blood clot flowing in the bloodstream.

An embolic stroke occurs when an embolus gets stuck in the brain
Diagram showing how a stroke occurs

Your mom's doctor explained to you that the blood clot formed somewhere else in her body and then traveled to an artery in the brain where it got stuck. The blood clot getting stuck there is what caused the loss of blood supply to the brain and the resulting stroke. There are some questions that are still in your mind, and you need clarification if you are going to be able to effectively look after your mom.

Symptoms

You and your mom were enjoying time together when the stroke occurred, but you didn't know what was happening. All you knew is that something was really wrong. The first thing you need to know are the symptoms so you look out for them should they start to happen again.

The first thing you may notice is that your mom will probably begin to complain of a headache. The headache will seem to come out of nowhere and will likely be very intense. Once the headache starts, she may start to vomit as well.

Next, you may have difficulty communicating with her because she may become very confused or have difficulty speaking, which we refer to as dysphasia. This can also be so extreme that she may not be able to talk at all, which is known as aphasia.

Her body may not be able to move properly due to paralysis. This is usually not complete paralysis, but rather paralysis on one side of her body. A good way of realizing that what she is experiencing is a stroke is the fact that the paralysis will usually be seen on only one side of the body.

The other thing you may notice is that she is having difficulty walking. This is due to a loss of her ability to coordinate her muscle movements.

She may also tell you that she can't see in one or both eyes.

You can check for most of these symptoms by remembering the acronym F.A.S.T.

  • F - Face, check her smile to see if one side is drooping
  • A - Arms, have her raise them to see if one is lower than the other
  • S - Speech, have her speak to you and check for slurring
  • T - Time, if you notice one side of the smile drooping along with one arm being lower and slurred speech, then it is time to call 911.

Treatments

Her doctor has just returned to her hospital room to let you know what they have done and will do to treat her for the embolic stroke. The doctor tells you that they gave her a thrombolytic drug as soon as she arrived since it is a drug that will help dissolve the blood clot that caused the stroke.

The hospital team also got her started on some blood thinners, which are drugs that will keep the blood thin. This will work to keep blood clots from forming in the future and keep current blood clots from getting any bigger.

The doctor tells you that if the drugs don't work to dissolve the blood clot then they may have to perform thrombolysis, a procedure to manually break up the blood clot.

An embolectomy done by inserting a catheter to remove the blood clot
Diagram showing an embolectomy

That should do the trick, but if not they have one more option, which is to surgically remove the blood clot by doing a thromboectomy.

Once the blood clot is dissolved or removed, then the treatment will focus more on restoring body functions to normal. This is accomplished by doing physical therapy to strengthen the muscles and get her walking normally. Occupational therapy will also be used to help her to learn coordinated movements again so she can get back to doing daily activities for herself again.

Lesson Summary

Here are the main points that you should now from this lesson. An embolic stroke is a loss of blood supply to the brain due to an embolus, which is a blood clot flowing in the bloodstream.

Symptoms of an embolic stroke include:

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