The brain is densely packed with blood vessels that ensure the delivery of oxygenated and nutrient-rich blood. Without these arteries and veins, life would not be possible. These cerebral arteries are not exempt from blockages or occlusions. When blood clots become lodged in these arteries, severe health complications results. The most common form of stroke is an ischemic stroke. An ischemic stroke results when a blood clot disrupts blood flow in one of the many cerebral arteries, which subsequently prevents the brain from functioning in that area. There are two forms of an ischemic stroke: embolic and thrombotic. Together, they are often termed thromboembolic strokes. The causes of embolic strokes are blood clots that form in other areas of the body, most commonly the chest or neck regions, and travel to the brain through the circulatory system. In the case of thrombotic strokes, these blood clots form in the cerebral arteries and stay there to disrupt blood flow. The causes of embolic strokes are thus related to blood clot formation in the body. Hypertension, high blood cholesterol, and smoking all contribute to the weakening of blood vessels and atherosclerosis development. Embolic stroke symptoms can include muscle weakness, facial paralysis, cognitive decline, speech impairments, difficulty with motor movement, and migraines.

It is important to monitor for embolic stroke symptoms, as treatment is needed immediately. Diagnosis of an embolic stroke involves various tests and procedures. These can include cerebral computed tomography (CT) scans, magnetic resonance imaging, ultrasounds, and angiograms. If a blood clot is detected, treatment follows quickly. Treatment for embolic strokes can include lifestyle changes, medications and if needed, emergency surgery. Lifestyle changes recommended are consuming a proper diet, which includes avoiding foods high in saturated and trans fat, exercising regularly, and avoiding smoking and alcohol consumption. Medications are almost always used in treatment for embolic strokes. Anticoagulants and thrombolytic medications work to deter further blood clot formation and actively seek to dissolve the present clot. If physicians deem it necessary, surgery may be required. Surgery is invasive procedure and only done as a life saving procedure. Depending on which cerebral artery is affected, surgeons can often remove the blood clot and alleviate symptoms. Embolic stroke prognosis is usually poor, especially if treatment is not sought immediately. This is due to the fact that a disruption in blood supply to the brain often promotes permanent and irreversible tissue damage. Depending on which area of the brain this occurs in, embolic stroke symptoms may be life-long. In addition, death may result from embolic strokes.

Causes of Embolic Stroke

The causes of embolic stroke are directly related to blood clot formation. These blood clots have the potential to dislodge and travel via the blood stream to the brain, where serious health complications result. Blood clots can form due to a variety of reasons. These include long periods of physical inactivity, smoking, birth control medications, surgery, pregnancy, heart conditions, and various genetic clotting disorders. These directly increase the likelihood of blood pooling and clot formation. Other causes of embolic strokes include hypertension and high cholesterol. These can weaken blood vessels and promote the development of atherosclerosis. It is important to minimize the causes of embolic stroke. Discuss with your physician on how to best minimize the risk of suffering from an embolic stroke.

Embolic Stroke Symptoms

Embolic stroke symptoms are very apparent and can occur suddenly. If treatment is not sought immediately, they may be become permanent due to irreversible brain damage. It is important to be alert and aware for embolic stroke symptoms. They can include muscle weakness (sometimes on one side of the body only), cognitive decline, vision problems, speech impairments, trouble walking, lack of balance, and severe migraines. Embolic stroke symptoms are related to the size and severity of the blood clot in the brain. For example, if the blood clot is present in the occipital lobe, severe vision difficulties will result. If the clot is located in the primary motor cortex, difficulty moving and balance problems will result. It is imperative to seek medical assistance immediately if any of the embolic stroke symptoms are present. Embolic stroke prognosis is directly related to the speed treatment is received and thus, may be life altering and even life saving.

Embolic Stroke Diagnosis

If embolic stroke symptoms are present, physicians will immediately request further testing to confirm the presence of a blood clot. These tests are also imperative in determining the causes of embolic stroke in the patient as well. These tests and procedures can include cerebral computed tomography (CT) scans, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), angiograms, echocardiograms, and a carotid duplex.

Cerebral Computed Tomography (CT) Scans

Cerebral CT scans are the most common test to examine for the causes of embolic strokes. CT scans provide detailed images of brain tissue and can thus provide insight if brain bleeding or clotting is present in the cerebral arteries. CT scans are also non-invasive and pose no harm to patients.

Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)

MRI’s are another powerful and non-invasive tool to determine the causes of embolic stroke. They also provide high quality images of the cerebrum and can determine if bleeding is present in the brain.

Cerebral Angiogram

Cerebral angiograms are usually used if embolic stroke symptoms are severe. It is an invasive test that involves the insertion of a catheter to help examine blood flow through the carotid artery. It is extremely important in determining whether a blood clot is present, or atherosclerosis is developing.


Echocardiogram is a non-invasive test that provides detailed images of the heart and its chambers. It is important in examining heart health and whether blood clot formation is occurring in the heart. It involves the use of an ultrasound probe over the chest region.

Carotid Duplex

A carotid duplex is a non-invasive procedure that involves the use of an ultrasound over the carotid artery. This ultrasound is pivotal in determining whether a blood clot is present in the carotid artery. If blood flow through the carotid is limited or obstructed, physicians know either atherosclerosis or blood clots have formed.

These tests are pivotal in not only the detection of a thromboembolic stroke, but its prevention as well. Monitoring for atherosclerosis development is important in the avoidance of a thromboembolic stroke. Your physician is the best person to determine what diagnostic procedure is best under your circumstances.

Treatment for Embolic Stroke

Treatment for embolic strokes is an extremely time sensitive matter. If treatment doesn’t begin as soon as possible following the onset of embolic stroke symptoms, patients may suffer form severe and life altering symptoms for the rest of their lives. Thus, it is imperative to seek medical assistance immediately to greatly enhance embolic stroke prognosis. Common treatment methods include lifestyle changes, medications and if needed, emergency surgery.

Lifestyle Changes

The lifestyle changes recommended are directly related to minimizing the risk factors of developing a blood clot anywhere in the body. These lifestyle changes should include getting active, losing weight, eating a healthy diet, quitting smoking, avoiding alcohol, and decreasing stress levels. In particular, the consumption of a healthy diet can directly translate into prevention of atherosclerosis development. Avoiding foods high in sugars, fats and sodium is imperative to not only reducing cholesterol levels, but also avoiding high blood pressure. Exercising regularly can also improve heart health and thus, decrease the risk of blood clot formation. Quitting smoking is also very important as smoking can damage arteries and cause them to harden. This directly promotes blood clot formation.


After embolic stroke symptoms are present, physicians will commonly prescribe medications immediately. This is to help prevent further clotting in the body and dissolve the present clot in the cerebral artery. The most important medications in the treatment for embolic strokes are anticoagulants, antiplatelet and thrombolytics. Anticoagulants and antiplatelets are more preventative medicines for embolic stroke patients. These medications help to ensure blood is flowing properly through the body and thus, prevent the formation of blood clots in places such as the heart and legs. The most common anticoagulant and antiplatelet are warfarin and aspirin, respectively. Especially in the case of warfarin, it is important to discuss with your doctor about the side effects warfarin may pose. Arguably the gold standard of embolic stroke treatment is thrombolytic medications. The most common thrombolytic medication is tissue plasminogen activator, which is usually administered intravenously. This medication is why treatment must be sought immediately, as it is only effective if it is administered 3 to 4 hours after blood clot formation. Once tissue plasminogen activator enters the blood stream, it reaches the blood clot and works to dissolve it immediately. This is extremely important to avoid permanent brain damage. Thrombolytic medication also poses severe side effects. The most important is the occurrence of severe bleeding, which may be fatal. It is important to avoid trauma to the body during the administration of thrombolytic medication.


Surgery is often used as a last resort for treatment for embolic strokes. It is highly invasive and poses severe risks such as additional clotting and injury to the brain and thus, is only used in life threatening situations. The most common surgical procedure is a carotid endarterectomy. This procedure involves removing plaque development from the carotid artery and helping to restore proper blood flow to the brain and surrounding structures.

It is important to seek treatment immediately as it can greatly improve embolic stroke prognosis. After suffering from an embolic stroke, many patients receive permanent complications that affect their daily lives. Seeking treatment as fast as possible can change this and improve recovery for many.