When a blood vessel on the surface or inside the brain leaks or bursts, tissues can be damaged.
Strokes happen when a clot blocks an artery in your brain or when a blood vessel breaks. A stroke prevents your brain from getting the blood and oxygen it needs.
If you experience the symptoms of a stroke, you should seek medical care immediately by calling 911. It’s important to stop any bleeding or remove a blood clot right away to minimize brain damage.
Signs and symptoms
Quick treatment is crucial
Knowing the signs and symptoms of a stroke is the best way to ensure you get the care you need. For every minute a stroke goes untreated, nearly 2 million neurons in your brain die. This can affect speech, movement, memory and more. Quick treatments save lives or prevent disabilities. Even if symptoms lessen or go away, you should get help right away.
There are two main types of stroke:
When a clot blocks a blood vessel, the brain does not get the blood it needs to work as it should.
Stroke symptoms strike suddenly. If you think someone is having a stroke, BE FAST:
B – Balance. Is there a sudden loss of balance or coordination? To check, ask the person to walk in a straight line or touch their finger to their nose.
E – Eyes. Are there sudden vision changes? To check, ask if the person has double vision or cannot see out of one eye.
F – Face. Does one side of the face droop? To check, ask the person to smile.
A – Arm. Is there arm weakness or numbness? To check, ask the person to raise both arms.
S – Speech. Is speech slurred? Does the person have trouble speaking? To check, ask the person to repeat a sentence.
T – Terrible headache. Is there a sudden onset of a terrible headache?
Care and treatment
Enhanced, breakthrough stroke care and treatment
When you come to UW Health, we do everything we can to stop or slow the effects of a brain blockage or bleed. We provide ultra-rapid initial diagnosis and treatment.
Our Comprehensive Stroke Center provides acute treatment for ischemic and hemorrhagic strokes. The vascular surgeons, neurologists, neuro-interventionalists, neuroradiologists and neurosurgeons on the stroke team quickly assess your condition and provide the right treatment.
Stroke treatments might include:
We use CT, CT angiography, CT perfusions, MRI, MRA, functional MRI, transcranial Doppler and ultrasound to identify brain regions at risk of damage. We follow comprehensive CT and MRI stroke imaging guidelines for stroke management.
Our stroke team provides 24/7 bedside administration of alteplase, a drug that breaks down blood clots.
Certain types of brain blood clots can be removed in a procedure called a thrombectomy. UW Health has two state-of-the-art OR hybrid operating rooms for these types of surgery.
Our stroke team repairs ruptured intracranial aneurysms in hemorrhagic strokes. This stops blood from leaking into brain tissue and returns blood flow to the brain.
Expert nurses with critical care and neuroscience training care for and monitor stroke patients.
We perform carotid surgery, extracranial to intracranial bypass, aneurysm clipping and arteriovenous malformation removal to treat carotid artery stenosis, intracranial hemorrhage, subarachnoid hemorrhage and vasospasm.
Complete rehabilitation care
If a stroke causes a loss of speech, movement or other disability, you will begin rehabilitation. Once you are medically ready, you will do physical, occupational and speech therapy as needed.
We provide rehabilitation programs for patients staying at the hospital and those well enough to return home. At UW Health, we do everything we can to help you recover as completely as possible.
Stroke quality data
Diagnostic cerebral catheter angiography
The Comprehensive Stroke Program at UW Health in Madison, Wis., is dedicated to the philosophy that the impact of stroke can be minimized by a combination of aggressive prevention, rapid and intensive acute stroke management and a positive attitude toward rehabilitation.
A diagnostic cerebral catheter angiography is a procedure that allows physicians to see how blood flows in the brain and the vessels leading to the brain. The procedure may identify vessel blockages and aneurysms, and detect abnormal blood vessels.
The UW Health Stroke Program results are significantly better than The Joint Commission's quality benchmarks when performing cerebral catheter angiography, as seen below.
Programs and research
Lifesaving cerebrovascular care
The stroke program at UW Health offers expert care and a wide range of services.
We are a Comprehensive Stroke Program certified by The Joint Commission. This means we meet the highest levels of care to speed recovery and reduce the risk of death. The UW Health Stroke Program also received the American Heart Association and the American Stroke Association Get With The Guidelines-Stroke Gold Plus Quality Achievement Award.
Our Emergency Department and medical flight teams are trained to provide immediate care for stroke to stop brain damage. We provide access to lifesaving services 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Patients receive education on managing their health and schedule a follow-up visit before leaving the hospital.
Our specialized care programs
Doctors who need guidance for patients with stroke symptoms can call the UW Health Access Center 24 hours a day. Our nurses can help coordinate consultations with neurologists and neurosurgeons, secure hospital beds and help arrange patient transport.
The UW Health Stroke Clinic assesses non-urgent patients at risk for stroke and those who want to prevent a second one. You can take steps to reduce your risk for stroke by talking with your doctor about your risk and maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
The UW Health stroke team provides telehealth care for stroke patients at hospitals in the region.
If you go to one of these hospitals with stroke symptoms, you’ll communicate with a UW Health neurologist through a computer monitor. A nurse will be by your side to explain things as they happen. Your UW Health neurologist can order more tests or transfer you to our Comprehensive Stroke Center, based on your exam and test results.
Improving stroke outcomes through research and clinical trials
UW Health is part of NIH StrokeNet. This is a stroke trials network funded by the National Institutes of Health. The group includes more than 200 hospitals that are researching and testing new treatments. Their work is aimed at preventing and treating strokes and helping patients achieve the best possible recovery.
We also take part in clinical trials. As a UW Health patient, you might be able to take part in important stroke and aneurysm research.
Our comprehensive stroke team provides public and professional stroke education sessions. If you are interested in this opportunity, please fill out this form.
Good news from stroke recoveries
Meet some of our patients
A highly accomplished product manager for a scientific instrument company, Mike Bradley of Fitchburg, Wis. remembers the day he went back to work in January 2019, just after the winter holidays. To say the day did not go as planned would be a huge understatement.
A 50th wedding anniversary is a highly momentous occasion for any couple, but for Jim and Michelle Schmaling of Whitewater, Wis., reaching their golden anniversary on April 13, 2021, was extraordinarily meaningful.
After a stroke at age 28, Emily Miller learned she had a hole in her heart. Doctors fixed her heart and once she had fully recovered, Emily raised funds to give 48 comfort kits to the Neuro ICU at UW Health to help other patient families.
While driving her grandchildren home from a summer visit, Barbara Ellingson-Raisbeck had a medical emergency. She was able to pull the car over safely and dial 911. At University Hospital, she had surgery for a brain aneurysm. Today, Barbara shows little sign of slowing down. Her takeaway: Always listen to your body and take necessary action right away.
If you think you're having a stroke, don’t Google your symptoms, just call 911. That’s Jennifer Gardner’s advice after surviving a stroke while at work. Lucky for her, a co-worker saw something was off and got Jennifer the help she needed.
Patient and support services
You’re never alone
We provide a wide range of support services for you, your family and the community. We teach children and adults how to recognize the signs of stroke and when to get immediate medical help. We also offer support groups for survivors and our preventive programs help you reduce your risk for aneurysm and stroke.
Our support groups include:
Hosted by UnityPoint Health-Meriter and UW Health
This support group is a way for people to connect with each other after having a stroke or aneurysm. Family, friends and caregivers are welcome to join. Open and honest discussions about recovery issues, roadblocks and solutions are the goal. UW Health and UnityPoint Health - Meriter staff facilitate and answer questions, but the group belongs to the participants.
Location: Webex (online) and in person
Dates: The first Wednesday of each month
Online-only: July 5, September 6, November 1
In person with virtual option: June 7, August 2, October 4, December 6
Stay up to date: Subscribe to our monthly email reminder and receive the virtual meeting link.
UW Health partners with Retreat and Refresh Stroke Camp to help survivors and their caregivers improve their quality of life through relaxation, fun activities, laughter, music, games, crafts and more.
Meet our team
Your stroke team
The stroke team at UW Health includes experts in neurology and neurosurgery. All UW Health doctors and nurses know the signs of stroke and are committed to providing immediate care.