Skip to Main Content





General Considerations

Stroke is a cerebrovascular disorder resulting from impairment of cerebral blood supply by occlusion (eg, by thrombi or emboli) or hemorrhage. It is characterized by the abrupt onset of focal neurologic deficits. The clinical manifestation depends on the area of the brain served by the involved blood vessel. Stroke is the most common serious neurologic disorder in adults and occurs most frequently after age 60. All-cause mortality following a stroke is nearly 40% at 5 years and stroke is the leading cause of disability in the United States.

Ischemic strokes, comprising thrombotic, embolic, and lacunar occlusions, account for over 80% of all strokes and result in cerebral ischemia or infarction. A variety of disorders of blood, blood vessels, and heart can cause occlusive strokes, but the most common by far are atherosclerotic disease (especially of the carotid and vertebrobasilar arteries) and cardiac abnormalities.


  • Secondary to thrombosis or embolism.

  • Consider in acute neurologic deficit (focal or global) or altered level of consciousness.

  • No historical feature distinguishes ischemic from intracerebral hemorrhagic stroke, although headache, nausea and vomiting, and altered level of consciousness are more common in intracerebral hemorrhagic stroke.

  • Abrupt onset of hemiparesis, monoparesis, or quadriparesis; dysarthria, ataxia, vertigo; monocular or binocular visual loss, visual field deficits, diplopia.

Stabilize Ventilation

A. Establish Airway

Assess adequacy of airway and ventilation in all stroke patients, especially in the presence of depressed level of consciousness, absent gag reflex, respiratory difficulty, or difficulty managing secretions.

B. Consider Intubation

Patients with inadequate ventilation (respiratory acidosis) or difficulty managing secretions will require intubation.

Search for Head Trauma

Stroke patients may sustain head injury due to incoordination or weakness. Conversely, patients with focal neurologic findings due to head trauma may be mistakenly diagnosed as suffering from stroke. If head injury is suspected from the history or clinical findings, immobilize the cervical spine. Refer to Chapter 27 for management.

Treat Cerebral Edema

Deterioration of neurologic status or the presence of brainstem involvement (depressed sensorium, pupillary or extraocular movement abnormality, decorticate or decerebrate posturing) suggests significant cerebral edema and impending herniation. Mannitol 20% 0.5–1.5 g/kg hourly or 23.4% hypertonic saline solution 0.5–2.0 mL/kg and maintaining the head of the bed at greater than 30° angle are medical therapies for elevated intracranial pressure (ICP) associated with cerebral edema from ischemic stroke. However, medical therapy for cerebral edema associated with ischemic stroke does not appear to alter the patient’s outcome.

Treat Seizures

(See Chapter 19 for management of seizures.) Consider prophylaxis for ...

Pop-up div Successfully Displayed

This div only appears when the trigger link is hovered over. Otherwise it is hidden from view.