Cardioembolic stroke is a type of stroke that involves a blood clot in the brain. Knowing the signs of stroke is crucial since early treatment increases a person’s chance of survival.

Twenty-six million people experience a stroke every year. There are many different types of strokes, and cardioembolic stroke accounts for approximately 20% of all strokes.

Cardioembolic stroke happens when the heart pumps rejected materials, such as debris or a blood clot, into the brain. This can cause blockages in the blood vessels, which may lead to a stroke.

In this article, we discuss a cardioembolic stroke. We outline the symptoms, causes, risk factors, diagnosis, treatment, prevention, and details about other types of strokes.

A healthcare professional speaking with a male patient in a hospital.Share on Pinterest
Shape Charge/Getty Images

A cardioembolic stroke is a form of ischemic stroke. An ischemic stroke involves obstructed blood vessels in the brain.

Ischemic strokes account for 87% of all strokes.

The symptoms of a stroke can develop very suddenly and may include:

  • numbness or weakness in the arm, leg, or face, often affecting one side of the body
  • confusion
  • speaking difficulties or difficulty understanding speech
  • vision difficulties in one or both eyes
  • difficulties with walking, coordination, balance, and dizziness
  • severe headache

If a person thinks someone else is having a stroke, they should conduct the FAST test:

  • F – Face: Does one side of the face droop when they ask the person to smile?
  • A – Arms: Does one arm drift downward when they ask the person to raise both arms?
  • S – Speech: If they ask the person to repeat a simple phrase, is their speech slurred or strange?
  • T – Time: If any of the above signs are present, a person should seek immediate medical attention by calling 911.

When debris, such as blood clots, moves from the heart to the brain, this can cause a cardioembolic stroke, a type of ischemic stroke.

Ischemic strokes occur when there is a blockage in the blood vessels. This stops blood flow to the brain, resulting in a stroke.

Cardioembolic strokes can occur because of heart disease or following heart surgery. They can also develop with little to no warning signs.

Evidence suggests that more people are experiencing cardioembolic strokes, and this number may continue to rise over the next few decades.

Various heart conditions may put a person at higher risk for developing a cardioembolic stroke, including:

  • Atrial fibrillation: This is where a person has a slightly irregular and fast heartbeat. It affects approximately 33 million people worldwide. Research from 2020 suggests atrial fibrillation is the most common cause of cardioembolic stroke.
  • Systolic heart failure: This is where the left ventricle of the heart becomes weak and does not contract properly. People with systolic heart failure may have a higher risk of stroke.
  • Heart disease: A person with heart disease such as coronary artery disease is at higher risk for developing a cardioembolic stroke.
  • Patent foramen ovale: Also known as a hole in the heart, patent foramen ovale may be present in approximately 40% of people who have a stroke without a known cause.

Various other heart conditions or previous heart surgeries may also put a person at risk of developing a cardioembolic stroke.

Risk factors for all types of strokes include:

  • high blood pressure
  • diabetes
  • high cholesterol
  • smoking
  • viral infections
  • inflammatory conditions

A doctor will most likely diagnose a stroke at the hospital as soon as possible. In order to get the correct treatment, doctors will need to identify the type of stroke a person has had.

They may ask about the person’s medical history and recent symptoms and conduct a physical examination.

Doctors may also conduct imaging tests to observe the blood vessels in the brain. These tests may include a computed tomography (CT) or a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan.

They may also order blood tests.

If they suspect the stroke may be cardioembolic, they may carry out tests to look at the heart in closer detail. For example, a person may undergo an electrocardiogram (EKG) or a coronary computed tomography angiogram (CCTA).

The best treatments for a stroke are only available if a person receives a diagnosis within the first 3 hours of symptom onset.

A person with a cardioembolic stroke will likely receive a tissue plasminogen activator (tPA). This medication can help to break down the blood clot causing the stroke.

The sooner a person obtains this medication, the more likely they are to recover.

If a person cannot take a tPA for any reason, doctors may administer blood thinning medications. This can stop further blood clots from forming and prevents current blood clots from growing in size.

Some medical procedures can also help treat a stroke, such as a thrombectomy. This involves a surgeon inserting a tube into the body to open up the blocked artery.

Preventing and treating underlying heart conditions or heart disease can help prevent strokes from occuring.

A person with heart problems may wish to discuss their likelihood of developing a cardioembolic stroke with their doctor.

Other stroke prevention strategies include:

  • eating a healthy diet
  • taking part in regular physical activity
  • not smoking
  • reducing alcohol intake
  • controlling factors such as cholesterol, blood pressure, and diabetes

A cardioembolic stroke may affect a person’s quality of life. Some people may need to relearn skills such as walking or talking. Rehabilitation therapy can help.

The effects of a stroke depend on the extent of the damage to the brain.

Additionally, the likelihood of reoccurrence of cardioembolic strokes is high.

Cardioembolic is a type of ischemic stroke.

An embolic stroke is the term for a stroke that is caused by a blood clot anywhere in the body apart from the brain. This blood clot then, in turn, travels to the brain, causing a blockage.

Another type of ischemic stroke is thrombotic stroke. These are similar to embolic strokes. However, the blood clot begins in a blood vessel located in the brain.

Another type of stroke is hemorrhagic. This is where a blood vessel within the brain ruptures and results in bleeding. When there is bleeding in the brain, it cannot get enough nutrients and oxygen to function properly, which can lead to brain damage.

Unlike ischemic strokes, a hemorrhagic is not the result of a blood clot.

Cardioembolic strokes happen when blood clots or debris pumped from the heart block blood vessels in the brain.

People with heart conditions may be more likely to experience a cardioembolic stroke. They should ensure they receive appropriate treatment for this in order to reduce this risk.

It is essential for a person to receive treatment as quickly as possible following a stroke, ideally within 3 hours of having initial symptoms. If a person does not receive treatment quickly enough, a stroke can be fatal.