Stroke (main)

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  • Vascular injury that reduces cerebral blood flow to specific region of brain causing neuro impairment
  • Accurate determination of last known time when patient was at baseline is essential
Sensory Homonculus - courtesy

Ischemic stroke causes (87% of all strokes)

  • Thrombotic (80% of ischemic CVA)
  • Embolic (20% of ischemic CVA)
    • Valvular vegetations
    • Mural thrombi
    • Arterial-arterial emboli from proximal source
    • Fat emboli
    • Septic emboli
  • Hypoperfusion
    • Cardiac failure resulting in systemic hypotension

Hemorrhagic stroke causes (13% of all strokes)

Stroke Types

Clinical Features

Anterior Circulation

  • Blood supply via internal carotid system
  • Includes ACA and MCA

Internal Carotid Artery

  • Tonic gaze deviation towards lesion
  • Global aphasia, dysgraphia, dyslexia, dyscalculia, disorientation (dominant lesion)
  • Spatial or visual neglect (non-dominant lesion)

Anterior Cerebral Artery (ACA)

Signs and Symptoms:

  • Contralateral sensory and motor symptoms in the lower extremity (sparing hands/face)
  • Urinary incontinence
  • Left sided lesion: akinetic mutism, transcortical motor aphasia
  • Right sided lesion: Confusion, motor hemineglect

Middle Cerebral Artery (MCA)

Signs and Symptoms:

  • Hemiparesis, facial plegia, sensory loss contralateral to affected cortex
  • Motor deficits found more commonly in face and upper extremity than lower extremity
  • Dominant hemisphere involved: aphasia
  • Nondominant hemisphere involved: dysarthria w/o aphasia, inattention and neglect side opposite to infarct
  • Contralateral homonymous hemianopsia
  • Gaze preference toward side of infarct

Posterior circulation

Signs and Symptoms:

  • Crossed neuro deficits (i.e., ipsilateral CN deficits w/ contralateral motor weakness)
  • Multiple, simultaneous complaints are the rule
  • 5 Ds: Dizziness (Vertigo), Dysarthria, Dystaxia, Diplopia, Dysphagia
  • Isolated events are not attributable to vertebral occlusive disease (e.g. isolated lightheadedness, vertigo, transient ALOC, drop attacks)

Basilar artery

Signs and Symptoms:

  • Quadriplegia, coma, locked-in syndrome
  • Sparing of vertical eye movements (CN III exits brainstem just above lesion)
    • Thus, may also have miosis b/l
  • One and a half syndrome (seen in a variety of brainstem infarctions)
    • "Half" - INO (internuclear opthalmoplegia) in one direction
    • "One" - inability for conjugate gaze in other direction
    • Convergence and vertical EOM intact
  • Medial inferior pontine syndrome (paramedian basilar artery branch)
    • Ipsilateral conjugate gaze towards lesion (PPRF), nystagmus (CN VIII), ataxia, diplopia on lateral gaze (CN VI)
    • Contralateral face/arm/leg paralysis and decreased proprioception
  • Medial midpontine syndrome (paramedian midbasilar artery branch)
    • Ipsilateral ataxia
    • Contralateral face/arm/leg paralysis and decreased proprioception
  • Medial superior pontine syndrome (paramedian upper basilar artery branches)
    • Ipsilateral ataxia, INO, myoclonus of pharynx/vocal cords/face
    • Contralateral face/arm/leg paralysis and decreased proprioception

Superior Cerebellar Artery (SCA)

  • ~2% of all cerebral infarctions[1]
  • May present with nonspecific symptoms - N/V, dizziness, ataxia, nystagmus (more commonly horizontal)[2]
  • Lateral superior pontine syndrome
    • Ipsilateral ataxia, n/v, nystagmus, Horner's syndrome, conjugate gaze paresis
    • Contralateral loss of pain/temperature in face/extremities/trunk, and loss of proprioception/vibration in LE > UE

Posterior Cerebral Artery (PCA)

Signs and Symptoms:

  • Common after CPR, as occiptal cortex is a watershed area
  • Unilateral headache (most common presenting complaint)
  • Visual field defects (contralateral homonymous hemianopsia, unilateral blindness)
  • Visual agnosia - can't recognize objects
  • Possible macular sparing if MCA unaffected
  • Motor function is typically minimally affected
  • Lateral midbrain syndrome (penetrating arteries from PCA)
    • Ipsilateral CN III - eye down and out, pupil dilated
    • Contralateral hemiataxia, tremor, hyperkinesis (red nucleus)
  • Medial midbrain syndrome (upper basilar and proximal PCA)
    • Ipsilateral CN III - eye down and out, pupil dilated
    • Contralateral paralysis of face, arm, leg (corticospinal)

Anterior Inferior Cerebellar Artery (AICA)

  • Lateral inferior pontine syndrome
  • Ipsilateral facial paralysis, loss of corneal reflex (CN VII)
  • Ipsilateral loss of pain/temp (CN V)
  • Nystagmus, N/V, vertigo, ipsilateral hearing loss (CN VIII)
  • Ipsilateral limb and gait ataxia
  • Ipsilateral Horner syndrome
  • Contralateral loss of pain/temp in trunk and extremities (lateral spinothalamic)

Posterior Inferior Cerebellar Artery (PICA)

Signs and Symptoms:

  • Lateral medullary/Wallenberg syndrome
  • Ipsilateral cerebellar signs, ipsilateral loss of pain/temp of face, ipsilateral Horner's syndrome, ipsilateral dysphagia and hoarseness, dysarthria, vertigo/nystagmus
  • Contralateral loss of pain/temp over body
  • Also caused by vertebral artery occlusion (most cases)

Internal Capsule and Lacunar Infarcts

  • May present with either lacunar c/l pure motor or c/l pure sensory (of face and body)[3]
    • Pure c/l motor - posterior limb of internal capsule infarct
    • Pure c/l sensory - thalamic infarct (Dejerine and Roussy syndrome)
  • C/l motor plus sensory if large enough
  • Clinically to cortical large ACA + MCA stroke - the following signs suggest cortical rather than internal capsule[4]:
    • Gaze preference
    • Visual field defects
    • Aphasia (dominant lesion, MCA)
    • Spatial neglect (non-dominant lesion)
  • Others
    • I/l ataxic hemiparesis, with legs worse than arms - posterior limb of internal capsule infarct

Anterior Spinal Artery (ASA)

Superior ASA

  • Medial medullary syndrome - displays alternating pattern of sidedness of symptoms below
  • Contralateral arm/leg weakness and proprioception/vibration
  • Tongue deviation towards lesion

Inferior ASA

  • ASA syndrome
  • Watershed area of hypoperfusion in T4-T8
  • B/l pain/temp loss in trunk and extremities (spinothalamic)
  • B/l weakness in trunk and extremities (corticospinal)
  • Preservation of dorsal columns

Differential Diagnosis

Stroke-like Symptoms



Always obtain blood glucose, which is commonly overlooked (more embarrassing if you give tPA)

Stroke Work-Up

  • Labs
    • POC glucose
    • CBC
    • Chemistry
    • Coags
    • Troponin
    • T&S
  • ECG
    • In large ICH or stroke, may see deep TWI and prolong QT, occ ST changes
  • Head CT (non-contrast)
    • In ischemia stroke CT has sensitivity 42%, specificity 91%[5]
    • In acute ICH the sensitivity is 95-100%[6]
    • The goal of CTH is to identify stroke mimics (ICH, mass lesions, etc .)[7]
  • Also consider:
    • CTA brain and neck (to check for large vessel occlusion for potential thrombectomy)
    • Pregnancy test
    • CXR (if infection suspected)
    • UA (if infection suspected)
    • Utox (if ingestion suspected)

MR Imaging (for Rule-Out CVA or TIA)

  • MRI Brain with DWI (without contrast) AND
  • Cervical vascular imaging (ACEP Level B in patients with high short-term risk for stroke):[8]
    • MRA brain (without contrast) AND
    • MRA neck (without contrast)
      • May instead use Carotid CTA or US (Carotid US slightly less sensitive than MRA)[9] (ACEP Level C)



  • Admit for acute or subacute stroke

See Also

External Links


  1. Macdonell RA, Kalnins RM, Donnan GA. Cerebellar infarction: natural history, prognosis, and pathology. Stroke. 18 (5): 849-55.
  2. Lee H, Kim HA. Nystagmus in SCA territory cerebellar infarction: pattern and a possible mechanism. J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry. 2013 Apr;84(4):446-51.
  3. Rezaee A and Jones J et al. Lacunar stroke syndrome. Radiopaedia.
  4. Internal Capsule Stroke. Stanford Medicine Guide.
  5. Mullins ME, Schaefer PW, Sorensen AG, Halpern EF, Ay H, He J, Koroshetz WJ, Gonzalez RG. CT and conventional and diffusion-weighted MR imaging in acute stroke: study in 691 patients at presentation to the emergency department. Radiology. 2002 Aug;224(2):353-60.
  6. Suarez JI, Tarr RW, Selman WR. Aneurysmal subarachnoid hemorrhage. N Engl J Med. 2006; 354(4):387–396.
  7. Douglas VC, Johnston CM, Elkins J, et al. Head computed tomography findings predict short-term stroke risk after transient ischemic attack. Stroke. 2003;34:2894-2899.
  8. ACEP Clinical Policy: Suspected Transient Ischemic Attackfull text
  9. Nederkoorn PJ, Mali WP, Eikelboom BC, et al. Preoperative diagnosis of carotid artery stenosis. Accuracy of noninvasive testing. Stroke. 2002;33:2003-2008.