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In the United States, 795,000 people experience strokes annually (one stroke every 40 seconds).1 Of these events, 77% are primary strokes, whereas 23% represent recurrent strokes.1 In addition to the human costs, the financial implications of stroke are enormous—strokes accounted for an estimated $36.5 billion of total expenditures in the United States in 2010. Despite these grim statistics, from 2000 to 2010, the annual stroke death rate fell 35.8%.2 With the growing use of stroke units, thrombolysis, and other new therapies, there is increased hope for patients with acute stroke who present to the ED.

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Stroke is generally defined as any disease process that interrupts blood flow to the brain. Injury is related to the loss of oxygen and glucose substrates necessary for high-energy phosphate production and the presence of mediators of secondary cellular injury. Subsequent factors, such as edema and mass effect, may exacerbate the initial insult.

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Anatomy

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An understanding of the diagnosis and treatment of stroke begins with a working knowledge of the relevant vascular supply and neuroanatomy of the brain.

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The arterial supply to the brain is illustrated in Figures 1 and 2.

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Figure 1.
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Cerebral hemisphere, lateral aspect. Note the branches and distribution of the middle cerebral artery and the principal regions of cerebral localization. The middle cerebral artery bifurcates into a superior and inferior division. a. = artery; ant. = anterior; inf. = inferior; post. = posterior; sup. = superior. [Modified with permission from Fauci AS, Braunwald E, Kasper DL, et al: Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 17th ed. New York, McGraw-Hill Professional, 2008.]

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Figure 2.
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Cerebral hemisphere, medial aspect. Note the branches and distribution of the anterior cerebral artery, posterior cerebral artery, and the principal regions of cerebral localization. a. = artery; ant. = anterior; post. = posterior. [Reproduced with permission from Fauci AS, Braunwald E, Kasper DL, et al: Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 17th ed. New York, McGraw-Hill Professional, 2008.]

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The vascular supply is divided into anterior and posterior circulations. Clinical findings in stroke are determined by the location of the lesion(s) (Table 1), but the degree of collateral circulation may cause variations in the specific clinical symptoms and their severity.

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Table Graphic Jump Location
Table 1 Anterior and Posterior Circulation of the Brain

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