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Blood Clot in Brain

What Happens When There’s a Blood Clot in the Brain?

Navigating concerns about your health can be overwhelming, especially when facing the life-threatening impact of a blood clot in the brain. Understanding how clots develop and their impact is vital for recognizing early signs, seeking timely medical intervention, and saving lives. 

What is a Blood Clot?

A blood clot is a gel-like mass that forms when blood components, including platelets, fibrin (protein fiber formed during blood clotting), and other blood cells, stick together. This natural response is crucial for preventing excessive bleeding when we get injured, but problems arise when blood clots form inside blood vessels without an injury.

When a blood clot forms in the brain, it can disrupt normal blood flow, potentially causing severe complications. 

Why Do Blood Clots Form?

Blood clots form as part of the body’s natural defense mechanism. When we’re injured, blood clotting prevents excessive bleeding by forming a protective barrier. 

In some situations, however, this process can go wrong. Conditions like atherosclerosis (narrowing and hardening of the arteries) or certain medical conditions can trigger the formation of blood clots within blood vessels. These clots can break loose and travel to the brain, leading to serious complications.

What Happens When There’s a Blood Clot in the Brain

When a blood clot forms in the brain, it can lead to serious complications, such as a stroke. An ischemic stroke, which accounts for about 87% of all strokes in the U.S., occurs when a blood clot blocks an artery in the brain, leading to reduced blood flow.

The brain relies on a constant and uninterrupted blood supply to function properly. If a blood clot obstructs a blood vessel in the brain, it prevents oxygen and nutrients from reaching specific areas. This lack of blood flow can cause brain tissue damage and result in various symptoms depending on the affected region. 

Common symptoms of a blood clot in the brain include: 

  • Sudden and intense headache
  • Weakness or numbness in face, arm and/or leg, usually affecting one side of the body
  • Difficulty speaking, slurred or nonsensical speech 
  • Changes in vision, such as sudden blurred or double vision
  • Feeling of dizziness or difficulty maintaining balance and coordination

The impact of a blood clot largely depends on the size and location of the clot, emphasizing the importance of immediate medical attention when symptoms arise.

Treating a Blood Clot in the Brain

Treating a blood clot in the brain typically involves urgent medical intervention. Time is of the essence in treating a blood clot in the brain, therefore seeking immediate medical attention by calling 9-1-1 is crucial for the best possible outcome. 

If you live in an area where there are mobile stroke units, one will be dispatched by 9-1-1 along with EMS to assess for stroke. Because time is a key component of stroke treatment, receiving care from a mobile stroke unit is a significant benefit because it’s equipped with advanced medical equipment and a team of healthcare professionals trained to diagnose and treat stroke patients on-site.

From the unit, telehealth connects with physicians back at the hospital to determine what type of stroke is occurring. They can even do a CT scan on board and if indicated by a physician, crewmembers can provide time-sensitive clot-busting medications while en route to a hospital equipped to provide you with the appropriate level of care for your particular kind of stroke.  

Depending on the severity and type of clot, treatment strategies may include clot-busting medications, medical procedures to remove or break up the clot, and rehabilitation. Every case is unique, which is why individualized care under the guidance of medical experts is so important. 

  • David Fiorella, MD, PhD
    Director of the Stony Brook Cerebrovascular Center
    Co-Director of the Stony Brook Cerebrovascular and Comprehensive Stroke Center
    Professor of Neurosurgery and Radiology

    Dr. David Fiorella is considered a pioneer in the field of neuro-interventional therapies, advancing new devices and techniques for the treatment of Cerebrovascular disease. He spearheaded the acquisition of 2 Mobile Stroke units for Stony Brook University Hospital, the first program in Suffolk County. He is a senior member of the Society for Neuro-interventional Surgery (SNIS) and senior associate editor of the Journal of Neurointerventional Surgery.

This article is intended to be general and/or educational in nature. Always consult your healthcare professional for help, diagnosis, guidance and treatment.