Cerebrovascular disease: Causes, symptoms, and treatment

Cerebrovascular disease refers to a group of conditions that can lead to a cerebrovascular event, such as a stroke. These events affect the blood vessels and blood supply to the brain.

If a blockage, malformation, or hemorrhage prevents the brain cells from getting enough oxygen, brain damage can result.

Cerebrovascular diseases can develop in various ways, including deep vein thrombosis (DVT) and atherosclerosis, where plaque builds up in the arteries.

Stroke, transient ischemic attack, aneurysms, and vascular malformations are all types of cerebrovascular disease.

Other examples include a narrowing or blockage in the carotid, intracranial, or vertebral arteries, known as stenosis.

In the United States (U.S.), cerebrovascular disease is the fifth most common cause of death. In 2014, it caused 41.7 fatalities per 100,000 people, or 133,103 deaths in total.

Fast facts on cerebrovascular disease

Here are some key points about cerebrovascular disease. More detail is in the main article.

Cerebrovascular disease refers to a group of conditions that affect blood supply to the brain

Early symptoms of a cerebrovascular attack include weakness and difficulty communicating

Symptoms of a cerebral hemorrhage include a sudden, severe headache

A cerebrovascular event is a medical emergency, and 911 should be called immediately

Symptoms

[atherosclerosis is a kind of cerebrovascular disease]
Atherosclerosis causes blockages in the blood vessels and is a common cause of stroke.

The signs and symptoms of cerebrovascular disease or a cerebrovascular attack depend on where the blockage or damage occurs, and how much cerebral tissue is affected.

Different events may have different effects, but common signs and symptoms include:

a severe and sudden headache

paralysis of one side (hemiplegia)

weakness on one side (hemiparesis)

confusion

difficulty communicating, including slurred speech

loss of half of vision

loss of balance

loss of consciousness

What is F.A.S.T.?

The American Stroke Association urges the public to know the F.A.S.T. acronym as an aid to recognizing the warning signs of stroke:

Face drooping

Arm weakness

Speech difficulty

Time to call 911

Urgent medical attention is needed if anyone has symptoms of a cerebrovascular attack, because it can have long-term effects, such as cognitive impairment and dementia.

Causes

Cerebrovascular disease happens for a variety of reasons.

If damage to blood vessels in the brain leads to a cerebrovascular attack, there will be little or no blood supply to parts of the brain. No blood means no oxygen, and, without oxygen, the brain cells will start to die. Brain damage is irreversible. Emergency help is needed.

Atherosclerosis is one type of cerebrovascular disease. It occurs when high cholesterol levels, together with inflammation in the arteries of the brain, cause cholesterol to build up in the vessel as a thick, waxy plaque that can narrow or block blood flow in the arteries.

This plaque can limit, or completely obstruct, blood flow to the brain. In time, this can cause a cerebrovascular attack, such as a stroke or a transient ischemic attack (TIA).

[aneurysm can result from a deformity in a blood vessel]
An aneurysm, resulting from a deformity in a blood vessel, can lead to a cerebrovascular attack.

An ischemic stroke occurs when a blood vessel that supplies blood to the brain is blocked by a blood clot or plaque. A clot, or thrombus, may form in an artery that is already narrow. A stroke happens when the lack of blood supply results in the death of brain cells.

A hemorrhagic stroke occurs when a blood vessel in part of the brain becomes weak and bursts open, causing blood to leak into the brain. This puts pressure on the brain tissue, causing tissue damage. The hemorrhage can also cause a loss of blood supply to other parts of the brain.

An aneurysm or a subarachnoid hemorrhage can result from defects in the blood vessels of the brain. If a blood vessel ruptures, the flow of blood that follows can damage brain cells.

An embolism happens when a clot breaks off from elsewhere in the body and travels up to the brain to block a smaller artery. This may cause an embolic stroke. This is more common in people who have arrhythmias, such as atrial fibrillation.

A tear in the lining of the carotid artery can lead to ischemic stroke in people aged under 40 years. The tear lets blood flow between the layers of the carotid artery, narrowing the artery and reducing blood flow to the brain.

Risk factors

Stroke is the most common type of cerebrovascular event.

It is more likely among males aged over 65 years, and especially if they or a close relative have previously had a stroke.

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