Cerebrovascular accident (CVA) is the medical term for a stroke or brain attack. It occurs when blood flow cannot reach a part of the brain.

Fast treatment plays an essential role in recovery from CVA. Recognizing the symptoms or signs of CVA may help save a person’s life and lead to better outcomes.

A person can also take steps to reduce their risk of CVA. Lifestyle changes may play a role in prevention.

This article reviews the types and causes of CVA. It also discusses symptoms, treatment options, how doctors diagnose CVA, and more.

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There are two main types of CVA: ischemic stroke and hemorrhagic stroke.

Ischemic stroke

Ischemic strokes make up about 87% of all CVA cases. This type of CVA event occurs due to a blockage of blood flow to the brain.

The blockage may be due to blood clots, plaque buildup, or the presence of other substances in the blood.

Learn more about ischemic strokes.

Hemorrhagic stroke

Hemorrhagic stroke is less common than ischemic strokes. It occurs when an artery in the brain bursts or leaks blood.

The pooling blood puts pressure on the brain, causing damage. This type of stroke often occurs due to high blood pressure or an aneurysm, which is a bulge in an artery that can lead to a burst.

Learn more about hemorrhagic strokes.

Transient ischemic attack

A transient ischemic attack (TIA), also known as a “ministroke” or “warning stroke,” differs from the types listed above. This is because something blocks blood flow for a short period, often fewer than 5 minutes.

Learn more about TIA.

A person should call 911 immediately if they or someone else suddenly experiences any of the following signs or symptoms of CVA:

  • numbness or weakness in the arm, leg, or face, particularly on one side of the body
  • difficulty walking, loss of balance or coordination, or dizziness
  • difficulty seeing out of one or both eyes
  • confusion, difficulty speaking, or problems understanding speech
  • severe or sudden head pain

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend a person follow the “FAST” procedure to help them identify a CVA event in a person. FAST steps include:

  • F: Ask the person to smile. Check whether the smile droops on one side.
  • A: Ask the person to lift their arms. Check whether one arm drifts downward.
  • S: Ask the person to repeat simple phrases or words. Listen for slurring or strangeness in their voice.
  • T: If the person shows any of the signs, a companion should call 911 immediately.

Symptoms come on suddenly with CVA. It is important to try to mark the time the symptoms started to help medical professionals deliver the best treatment.

Learn about what a stroke feels like.

Rapid treatment for CVA can improve outcomes. Treatment will usually start as soon as emergency medical services arrive at the person’s location. Taking an ambulance to the hospital can help speed up someone’s diagnosis and treatment, which can help improve outcomes.

Treatment continues in a hospital and may include one or more of the following:

  • emergency care
  • preventive treatment
  • rehabilitation

Ischemic stroke treatments

A person experiencing an ischemic stroke may receive a thrombolytic, which is a medication that helps break up blood clots. A common type of thrombolytic that hospitals use is tissue plasminogen activator (tPA).

To be effective, recommendations state that a person should receive the thrombolytic within 3 hours of the first sign of stroke.

Evidence suggests that tPA, or alteplase, helps improve functional outcomes at 3 months compared with placebos. In other words, it may help prevent disability associated with CVA.

People with conditions that increase the risk of bleeding should not receive tPA due to the risk of bleeding and hemorrhage. Insufficient evidence exists about its safety in use in people who are pregnant or nursing.

However, for most people, improved outcomes from the stroke outweigh the risk of adverse events.

Learn more about tPA.

Hemorrhagic stroke treatments

A person experiencing a hemorrhagic stroke requires different treatments that can include medications and surgical procedures to stop the bleeding. Doctors may perform endovascular procedures to repair breaks or ruptures in blood vessels or a surgical procedure to place a clip on a ruptured artery.


Following emergency care, a person may require rehabilitation therapies. These can help restore function and ease the transition from the hospital setting to home. Recovery times vary greatly between people and can last weeks, months, or years.

Learn more about stroke rehabilitation.


Part of recovery may take steps to prevent future CVA events. About 1 in 4 people will have another stroke within 5 years.

Taking steps to treat the underlying causes of the stroke can help prevent future occurrences. A doctor can advise on any medication or other treatments they recommend to address the underlying cause.

Doctors can diagnose CVA using a combination of:

  • symptom review
  • review of personal medical history
  • physical examination
  • diagnostic tests

When a person arrives at a hospital with signs of stroke, a doctor may order one or more tests to help rule out other causes and determine the type of stroke. Tests can include:

  • imaging tests, such as CT and MRI scans, to show the blood vessels in the brain
  • electrocardiogram (EKG) to help find potential heart problems
  • lumbar puncture in rare cases where there are concerns about bleeding in the brain but where other tests cannot confirm this
  • blood tests to determine the type of medication that may work for the person

Several risk factors can increase a person’s chances of a CVA.

Modifiable risk factors account for around 82–90% of all strokes. These are factors that a person can aim to manage or change. Examples include:

Other risk factors include things a person cannot change. Examples include:

It is best to contact a doctor for advice if a person has concerns about the risk factors of CVA.

Learn more about the risk factors for strokes.

It may not be possible to completely prevent CVA. However, some steps a person can take to reduce their risk of having a CVA include:

A person’s doctor can provide more advice on ways they can help reduce their risk of CVA.

Here are some common questions about CVA.

What is the difference between a stroke and a cerebrovascular accident?

Cerebrovascular accident is the medical term for stroke. They both refer to the same condition.

What causes a cerebrovascular accident?

There are two main types of stroke, each with a different cause. Ischemic stroke occurs due to a blockage that prevents blood flow to the brain. Hemorrhagic stroke occurs due to bleeding from a blood vessel or artery in the brain.

Cerebrovascular accident (CVA) is the medical term for stroke. The most common type of CVA is an ischemic stroke, which occurs due to a blockage of blood to the brain. Hemorrhagic strokes occur as a result of bleeding in the brain.

Treatment is most effective when started early. It can improve outcomes and help prevent long-term disability. Diagnosis of CVA typically involves reviewing symptoms and medical history and performing various tests.

CVA causes a sudden onset of symptoms, such as a loss of muscle control, confusion, slurred speech, and issues with movement. A person should call 911 immediately if a person demonstrates signs of a stroke.