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The causes of arterial occlusion, or ischemic strokes, are multiple. The most frequent is atherosclerotic disease of extracranial and/or intracranial arteries; the former is more common in Caucasians, while the latter is more frequent among African Americans and Asians. A thrombus (stationary blood clot) formed on atherosclerotic plaques in these locations, as well as on the aorta, can dislodge and embolize to occlude a distal artery. Strokes due to atherosclerosis account for approximately two-thirds of all strokes. If seen within three hours of stroke onset, treatment with tissue plasminogen activator (tPA), a thrombolytic agent, may substantially improve a patient's neurological outcome. Otherwise, therapeutic efforts are aimed at optimizing cerebral blood flow to ischemically impaired brain tissue, providing neural protection to avert brain damage, and maximizing neurorehabilitation. Research on stem cell and neural progenitor cell implantation into an ischemically damaged brain to promote recovery is a recently promising area of stroke research.
Transient Ischemic Attacks (TIAs). Strokes may be heralded by transient neurological deficits, called transient ischemic attacks (TIAs), such as temporary blindness of one eye (amaurosis fugax), hemiparesis, or aphasia. Most frequently, TIAs occur with significant atherosclerotic disease of the extracranial carotid arteries. Control of risk factors for atherosclerosis, such as hypertension, smoking, diabetes mellitus, elevated cholesterol, stress, and, perhaps, sedentary lifestyle, will hopefully minimize strokes from this cause to an irreducible minimum. For significant extracranial disease (>70% diameter stenosis [constriction] at the
Cardiogenic strokes. Ischemic strokes can be caused by emboli from the heart as a result of more than a dozen cardiac disorders, the most common being arrhythmias, particularly atrial fibrillation (AF). Suspected cardiogenic strokes require workup, including transthoracic and transesophageal echocardiography (TTE and TEE), which can detect valvular pathologies, wall-motion abnormalities, thrombi, and patent foramen ovale (PFO). This group, in aggregate, may account for up to a quarter or more of all ischemic strokes. For AF, the treatment of choice to prevent embolic strokes is long-term anticoagulation. Patients who are not anticoagulation candidates should be treated with antiplatelet drugs. Conditions such as PFO can be treated medically with anticoagulation; surgical and percutaneous options are also available for PFO closure.
Lacunar Strokes. These strokes refer to small branch occlusions (noted previously), and include discrete syndromes such as pure sensory and motor hemiparesis. Lacunar strokes result primarily from chronic sustained hypertension, and the pathological change is "lipohyalinosis" of arterioles. This syndrome may account for 10 to 15 percent of all strokes. Adequate control of hypertension should prevent this condition.
Two final categories of diseases-causing ischemic strokes are more frequently considered in younger persons, especially those under fifty-five years of age, and involve arteries and blood elements. For the former, vessel diseases other than atherosclerosis include inflammatory processes, such as the arteritides; migraine; dissection—either spontaneous or traumatic; moyamoya syndrome; fibromuscular disorders; MELAS syndrome (mitochondrial encephalopathy, lactic acidosis, and stroke-like symptoms) and a few others. For the latter, blood-element disorders include clotting, and platelets and erythrocyte abnormalities. The most common clotting disorders are resistance to protein C activation—most frequently due to Factor V Leiden mutation (506Q); antiphospholipid syndrome, which includes the lupus anticoagulant and anticardiolipin antibodies; reduced antithrombin III; protein C & S deficiencies; plus a few others. Treatment of vascular disorders is tailored to the individual condition; for example, migraine is treated with prophylactic agents, which prevent vasospasm; arteritides with steroids and immunosuppressive agents; and moyamoya syndrome with a variety of bypass surgical procedures. Many of the hypercoagulable or prothrombotic conditions are treated with long-term anticoagulation.
Author Info: FRANK YATSU, The Gale Group Inc., Macmillan Reference USA, New York, Gale Encyclopedia of Public Health, 2002
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