What Kind of Stroke Did You Have?


When you find yourself in the hospital for a stroke, things happen FAST, as they say. “Time is Brain” and the healthcare team acts accordingly. The flurry of scans and tests and assessments can feel overwhelming and scary to the new stroke patient. This environment makes it hard to absorb information, which is why it’s common for people to be left wondering, “What kind of stroke did I even have?”

Did you, while still in the hospital, even know there were different kinds of strokes? They have different causes and treatments, so it’s helpful to know the difference.

There are two different kinds of strokes, hemorrhagic and ischemic. An easy way to understand both types of strokes is to think about plumbing.

Pipes carry water into our homes and carry waste away, which is essentially what our arteries and veins do with our blood. Sometimes pipes burst, which is basically what happens during a hemorrhagic stroke. Often our pipes get clogged and water can’t pass through, which is essentially what occurs during an ischemic stroke. As with plumbing, clogs (ischemic strokes) are much more common than bursts (hemorrhagic strokes).

two types of strokes illustrated by water pipes

Hemorrhagic (Burst) Stroke

  • Most common risk factor is high blood pressure, but poorly formed blood vessels and problems with blood clotting can also contribute
  • More deadly than ischemic strokes
  • Common treatments are blood pressure management and reversal of any blood thinning medications

Ischemic (Clog) Stroke

  • Accounts for 85% of strokes
  • Risk factors are high cholesterol, atherosclerosis, high blood pressure, atrial fibrillation, diabetes, smoking, sedentary lifestyle and poor diet
  • Treated with mechanical removal of the clot. Think of this as snaking the drain, or as with Drano, medication that breaks up the clot.

BE FAST - spot a stroke

Whatever kind of stroke you had, the way to avoid having another one is to control the risk factors as much as possible and to take your meds as prescribed by your physician. Exercise can help control risk factors like high blood pressure, stress, and excess weight. Quitting smoking and drinking and properly managing diabetes will also help prevent a secondary stroke. As always be aware of the stroke symptoms:

  • Balance—Feeling dizzy or loss of balance
  • Eyes—loss of vision or blurred vision
  • Face—uneven smile
  • Arm—weakness or numbness in an arm or leg, usually on one side of the body
  • Speech—loss of speech, slurred speech or difficulty understanding speech
  • Time—Call 911! Time is Brain!


Written by: Laura Tsim RN, BSN, CCRN

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