Cryptogenic Strokes: What You Should Know
A stroke is a life-changing event that merits considerable time, care, and research to identify the right recovery journey. While it’s crucial to uncover the cause, in some cases the origin is not clear.
Strokes of obscure or unknown origin are known as cryptogenic strokes. It often takes in-depth investigation to untangle a cryptogenic stroke. This quick guide is intended to shed light on scientific facts and possible causes surrounding cryptogenic strokes.
We understand the lack of answers is frustrating and overwhelming, but we hope this offers renewed optimism as you work with medical providers on seeking a post-stroke recovery program.
Understanding Cryptogenic Strokes: Facts to Consider
In most cases, a stroke occurs either when the blood supply to the brain gets interrupted (ischemic stroke) or a broken blood vessel bleeds in the brain (hemorrhagic stroke).
Consider the following statistics:
- “One in three” ischemic strokes are cryptogenic strokes.
- Nearly “half of cryptogenic strokes are embolic strokes”—a blood clot that forms and travels through the bloodstream to the brain.
- Cryptogenic strokes are more “frequent in younger than older patients.”
A medical provider may deem a stroke as cryptogenic upon a series of tests involving a brain CT scan, MRI, blood tests, and more.
While a large percentage of cryptogenic strokes never have a cause determined, there are possible causes researchers have been looking into:
- Atrial fibrillation (Afib): Afib is an irregular, often fast heartbeat in the heart’s upper chambers. This causes blood to pump inefficiently and clots to form. Symptoms include heart palpitations, fatigue, and shortness of breath. Shifts in the heart’s tissue and electrical system (usually via coronary artery disease or high blood pressure) cause Afib.
- Patent foramen ovale (PFO): PFO is when there is a hole in the heart between the left and right atria. Here’s how this happens—when a fetus is in the womb, it receives oxygenated blood through the umbilical cord. The heart directs this oxygen-rich blood to various parts of the body using a hole or flap between the right and left atriums. This hole is the PFO.When the baby is born, the PFO is supposed to close. But for about one in four people, it remains open. Some people experience zero issues from their PFO and go on to live full, healthy lives. However, problems can occur when clots develop and travel through the body, such as with deep vein thrombosis (DVT). Typically, when DVTs dislodge from the leg, they travel to the right side of the heart, then to the lungs, where they cause a pulmonary embolism.In individuals with PFO, the clot is not redirected to the lungs. Instead, it goes straight to the left side of the heart and can travel to the rest of the body—including the brain.
- Fabry’s disease: An inherited neurological disorder, Fabry’s disease occurs when a particular enzyme can’t sufficiently break down fatty materials that provide energy in the body. Fabry’s mostly occurs in males. Symptoms include burning pain in the arms and legs, clouding vision, and impaired blood circulation.
Recognizing Cryptogenic Stroke Symptoms
Symptoms of a cryptogenic stroke are the same as those of any type of stroke, and can include:
- Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg
- Sudden trouble seeing and/or speaking
- Extreme headache without obvious cause
- Sudden loss of balance or trouble walking
Minimizing Risk Factors for Cryptogenic Strokes
As “one in four stroke survivors” are at risk for another stroke, it’s essential to identify and minimize the risk factors for a cryptogenic stroke.
There are four main risk factors to help you get started. We encourage you to discuss these with your medical provider:
- High blood pressure: High blood pressure is one of the top risk factors for heart disease and stroke. If not managed, high blood pressure can strain your heart, arteries, and kidneys.
- High cholesterol: Contributing to fatty plaque, high cholesterol clogs arteries, which can lead to heart disease and stroke.
- Blood sugar: Our body breaks down food into glucose or blood sugar to use for energy. When blood sugar levels are too high, diabetes can develop. Diabetes impacts the kidneys, heart, eyes, and nerves.
- Genetic predisposition: A family history of stroke, clotting disorders, or diabetes may put you at greater risk of a stroke. Your doctor can order genetic testing if needed.
The key to combating these risk factors? Regular physical activity and healthy eating. Your doctor may recommend specific programs or regimes depending on where you are health-wise.
If you smoke, the best thing you can do for your health is to quit. Smokers have a high risk of developing heart complications.
Learn about the 5 stages of stroke recovery.
Cryptogenic strokes don’t always get a definitive answer. That doesn’t mean your road to recovery ends there. No matter the cause of a stroke, the protocols of the Aviv Medical Program are designed to optimize recovery outcomes and help you find a viable cryptogenic stroke treatment option.
Contact us to learn more about the Aviv Medical Program and how it may benefit your stroke recovery and management.