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What is a Cerebrovascular Accident?

A cerebrovascular accident (CVA) is the term used by medical professionals to describe what the general public would call a "stroke." As its name implies a CVA occurs when part of the brain (cerebrum) is deprived of its normal blood supply (vascular accident).

Most CVAs (about 80%) are caused by small blood clots that develop in irregularities in the walls of the arteries that supply blood to the brain. In the vast majority of cases the arteries that give rise to these clots are the carotid arteries in the neck although other arteries may be involved.

Certain medical conditions are known to be associated with an increased risk of having a CVA. These conditions include a previous diagnosis of heart disease or poor circulation in the legs, hypertension (high blood pressure), diabetes, and increased levels of cholesterol or low density lipoproteins (LDL, or "bad cholesterol") in the bloodstream. Additionally, smoking is a significant risk factor and may double the risk for a CVA in the presence of other risk factors.

There are certain physical symptoms that signal the presence of a CVA. These are:

  • Sudden loss of movement limited to one side of the body such as the arm or leg and, sometimes, both the arm and the leg;
  • Difficulty speaking;
  • Sudden loss of vision, or a disturbance in normal vision, that may be limited to one eye;
  • Confusion and/or Disorientation


In many cases of CVA the above-listed symptoms may have previously occurred and then disappeared within a few minutes. Such an event is called a transient ischemic attacks (TIA) or, more commonly, a "mini-stroke." Those that have had at least one TIA may be at up to a 50% risk of having a CVA within the following year.

In response to the question "what do I do if I think someone is having a CVA," the answer is to call the local emergency medical service (EMS) immediately. A suspected CVA represents a true medical emergency! You should then stay with the victim until the EMS unit arrives. While waiting, you should watch the victim and assure that he or she is breathing and that their airway is not being obstructed by their tongue or difficulty in swallowing. If this occurs you should immediately roll the victim onto their side and observe them carefully until a medical caregiver can take charge. Always remember that the sooner the victim receives medical care, the greater their chances for recovery.

In summary, a CVA occurs when part of the brain is deprived of its normal blood supply. It is vital that the victim receive prompt medical care in order to have the best chances of making the best possible recovery.

Michael Morales








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