Basic Facts

Brain cells need a constant supply of fresh blood carrying oxygen and nutrients to stay alive. If blood can’t get to these cells, the cells start to die quickly. So, a person may get brain damage.

A stroke may cause a disability because dead brain cells can no longer send signals to some parts of the body to control movements, sensations. and other abilities. For example, if the cells die in an area of the brain that controls speech, a person may have trouble with that. Some strokes may cause memory problems.

Common Types of Stroke

Up to 85 percent of strokes are ischemic (due to clots). Most of the others are hemorrhagic (due to a burst blood vessel).

Ischemic Stroke

Ischemic stroke is the most common type of stroke. This type of stroke occurs if a blood vessel gets blocked by a blood clot (thrombus) or by fat deposits (plaque). Several types of this stroke exist. 

  • Thrombotic Stroke
    Blood clots cause thrombotic strokes. Clots form along the wall of a blood vessel or because of a blockage of fat deposits. The clots then travel to the brain.
  • Embolic Stroke/Cerebral Embolism
    An embolic stroke (cerebral embolism) happens when a clot (an embolus) from another part of the body travels into the brain and blocks a blood vessel there.  
  • Transient Ischemic Attack (TIA)
    This is amini” stroke that goes away quickly because the clot breaks up. Symptoms may last for up to two hours. Since the blockage goes away quickly, brain cells generally don’t die. Permanent disability is unlikely.
A TIA is often a warning sign of a major ischemic stroke in the near future. Quick and thorough medical evaluation is necessary.

Hemorrhagic Stroke

This type of stroke happens when a blood vessel carrying blood to part of the brain hemorrhages (breaks or bursts). This allows blood to leak into the brain. A hemorrhagic stroke is much less common than an ischemic stroke.

  • Intracerebral Hemorrhagic Stroke 
    In this type of stroke, blood from a broken blood vessel leaks into the brain and damages brain cells.  
  • Subarachnoid Hemorrhagic Stroke
    This type of stroke happens when a blood vessel near the surface of the brain breaks, causing blood to collect between the skull and the surface of the brain. This causes irritation to the lining of the brain and can be very painful.   

How Common Are Strokes?

Strokes are the third most common cause of death in the United States. Almost 800,000 people have strokes each year in the United States and there are almost 7 million stroke survivors. About 140,000 people die annually from their strokes. Stroke rates vary.

  • Older men tend to have more strokes than older women.
  • Up to 30 percent of people who have a stroke die. Older women are more likely to die from strokes than older men.
  • People of color generally have more risk of stroke than white Americans.
  • The risk of having a mini-stroke rises with age. Up to 40 percent of all people who have one will have a full stroke later in life.
  • Up to 15 percent of strokes are the result of burst blood vessels. They account for 30 percent of deaths from stroke each year.


Last Updated March 2023

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