Cerebral Vascular Accident (CVA)

Overview

Cerebrovascular accident (CVA) is the clinical term used to describe a stroke. These can be either ischemic or hemorrhagic. Ischemic strokes are typically caused by a blockage in the blood supply to the brain, while hemorrhagic stroke generally occurs due to rupture of weakened blood vessels.

Our approach

With CVAs, timing is critical and experience matters. At the Stroke Center at Northwell Health, our team of experienced physicians provides leading-edge diagnosis and treatment for the full spectrum of strokes and related conditions, including transient ischemic attacks (TIAs), carotid artery dissection and vascular dementia. Our Stroke Center specialists will work with you to provide appropriate treatment options for the best possible outcomes.

Causes and risk factors

A cerebrovascular accident happens when blood flow to the brain is disrupted. This disruption is caused by a blood clot that blocks one of the vital blood vessels in the brain (ischemic stroke) or when a blood vessel bursts, spilling blood into surrounding tissues.

The brain requires a constant supply of oxygen and nutrients in order to function. A short interruption in this blood supply can cause brain cells to die.  

Symptoms

Early symptoms of a stroke include:

  • Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body
  • Sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding speech
  • Sudden trouble seeing from one or both eyes
  • Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination
  • Sudden severe headache with no known cause
  • Loss of consciousness or seizure
  • Sudden nausea, vomiting or fever, not caused by a viral illness

Cerebrovascular accident is a serious medical condition. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, seek immediate medical attention.

Diagnosis and testing

To evaluate the type of stroke that you may be having and the areas of your brain affected, you will need a complete evaluation. Your medical team will want to rule out other possible causes of your symptoms, such as a brain tumor or a drug reaction. You will likely undergo a variety of tests to determine the cause of your symptoms, including:

  • Physical examination
  • Blood tests
  • Computerized tomography (CT) scan
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
  • Carotid ultrasound
  • Cerebral angiogram
  • Echocardiogram

Treatment options

Rehabilitation following a cerebrovascular accident begins during the acute treatment phase. As you begin to improve, a broader-based rehabilitation program is prescribed.

Thanks to advances in treatment and rehabilitation, more cerebrovascular accident patients are overcoming impairments and disabilities and regaining optimal function. The goal of rehabilitation is to help you return to the highest level of function and independence possible while improving overall quality of life – physically, emotionally and socially.

Rehabilitation is designed to meet each person’s specific needs. Treatment components include:

  • Treating the basic disease and preventing complications
  • Treating the disability and improving function
  • Providing adaptive tools and altering the environment
  • Teaching the patient and family and helping them adapt to lifestyle changes

Cerebrovascular accidents can cause several types of disabilities

  • Paralysis or problems controlling movement such as walking or balance and/or swallowing
  • Sensory disturbances (problems feeling touch, pain or temperature)
  • Difficulty using or understanding language
  • Thinking and memory problems and emotional disturbances

Stroke rehabilitation can help you relearn skills and learn new ways to perform tasks. It depends on many variables, including the following:

  • How early rehabilitation begins
  • Extent of the brain affected
  • Expertise and dedication of the rehabilitation team
  • Cooperation of family and friends

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