Stroke from Atherosclerosis
Alternate Names : Brain Attack
A stroke is the death of brain tissue that occurs when the brain does not get
enough blood and oxygen. A stroke from
atherosclerosis occurs when the arteries supplying the brain are
narrowed by plaque formation on the vessel walls.
What is going on in the body?
A stroke from atherosclerosis is classified as an ischemic stroke,
which means it is caused when the blood supply to the brain is interrupted.
Atherosclerosis is a thickening or hardening of the arteries. It
can partially or totally block the flow of blood through an artery to the
brain. The brain cells then die from lack of oxygen. The products released when
cells die cause swelling in the brain. Since the skull doesn't allow much room
for expansion, this swelling can damage the brain tissue even further.
What are the causes and risks of the condition?
A stroke from atherosclerosis is caused by the buildup of plaque on the inner
walls of arteries supplying the brain. As plaque builds up in a person's
arteries, the blood flow is interrupted and the person's risk of stroke
increases. The person's risk of stroke from atherosclerosis is increased if
other risk factors for stroke are also present.
The American Heart Association has recently issued guidelines for stroke
prevention. The guidelines discuss risk factors for stroke in 3 categories:
nonmodifiable, well-documented modifiable, and less well-documented or
The nonmodifiable factors are ones that cannot be changed by the individual
increasing age. A person's risk of stroke doubles each year after age
race. Strokes occur approximately twice as often in blacks and Hispanics as
they do in whites.
gender. Men have a 50% higher chance of stroke than women do.
family history of stroke or transient
ischemic attack (TIA). A TIA is a short, reversible form of stroke that
may serve as an early warning sign of stroke.
Well-documented modifiable risk factors are those that can be changed by the
individual in conjunction with his or her healthcare provider. These factors
are linked to stroke by strong research findings, and there is documented proof
that changing the risk factor lowers a person's risk of stroke. These factors
high blood pressure
asymptomatic carotid stenosis, or
narrowing of one of the arteries in the neck
sickle cell anemia, a blood
disorder that forms abnormal red blood cells
high cholesterol levels in the
blood, including total cholesterol and
LDL or "bad cholesterol." Low levels
of HDL or "good cholesterol" are also
cause for concern.
atrial fibrillation, an abnormal
Less well-documented or potentially modifiable risk factors for stroke are
those that have less proof of either a link to stroke or the impact of
modifying the risk factor. These factors include:
high blood levels of homocysteine, a blood component sometimes associated
with a higher risk of stroke
blood disorders, such as blood that clots easily or deficiencies of various
hormone replacement therapy (HRT).
The AHA currently states that the risk of stroke associated with HRT appears
low but needs further study.
use of birth control pills, or oral contraceptives
inflammatory processes, such as a chronic infection with chlamydia
Several recent studies have identified factors that seem to increase or
decrease the risk of stroke in particular groups of people. These studies,
which warrant further investigation, include these findings:
People who were treated for high blood
pressure with thiazide diuretics, such as hydrochlorothiazide, had a
significantly lower stroke risk than people on ACE inhibitors or calcium
Women ages 39 to 50 who ate more fish and omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids had a reduced risk of stroke. This was particularly true in women who did not take aspirin regularly.
Women ages 15 to 44 who had 2 drinks of wine a day had a 40% to 60% lower
risk of stroke than women who did not drink
Phenylpropanolamine, a compound contained in appetite suppressants and cold
remedies, significantly increased the risk of hemorrhagic stroke in women 18 to 49
years of age. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has since asked
manufacturers to remove phenylpropanolamine from their products.
In one study, people who were treated in emergency departments for
transient ischemic attacks (TIA) had a 25% chance of having a stroke or other
serious health event within the next 90 days.