A NURSING APPROACH TO THE MANAGEMENT OF CEREBROVASCULAR DISORDERS
By: Dave Jay S. Manriquez, BSN, RN
CEREBROVASCULAR DISORDERS (CVD)
- An umbrella term that refers to any functional abnormality of the central nervous system that
occurs when the normal blood supply to the brain is disrupted.
- Disorder of the blood vessel that supplies blood flow to the brain
- a neurological condition which occurs suddenly, like a ”stroke of lightning”.
- a sudden neurological event which results in the new onset of neurological symptoms.
- primary CVD in the United States and in the world (3rd leading cause of death)
TWO MAJOR CATEGORIES OF STROKE
I. ISCHEMIC STROKE (85%)
- other names: Cerebrovascular Accident (CVA), Brain Attack (“an urgent health care
issue similar to a heart attack”)
1. Large Artery Thrombotic Strokes (20%)
- due to atherosclerotic plaques in the large blood vessels of the brain.
- thrombus formation at the site of atherosclerosis which results in tissue
ischemia and infarction.
- affected arteries: Left Internal Carotid Artery, Right Internal Carotid Artery,
Middle Cerebral Artery, Left Vertebral Artery, Right Vertebral Artery, Basilar
2. Small Penetrating Artery Thrombosis (25%)
- most common type
- affect one or more blood vessels
- also, LACUNAR STROKES (from the cavity that is created once infarcted brain
3. Cardiogenic Embolic Strokes (20%)
- emboli originates from the heart and circulates to the cerebral vasculature,
most commonly the Left Middle Cerebral Artery
- associated with cardiac dysrhythmias, usually atrial fibrillation. Other major
risk factors: a heart attack (myocardial infarction), heart failure, or a hole in the
heart PFO (Patent Foramen Ovale)
4. Cryptogenic Stroke
- no known cause
-causes: cocaine use, coagulopathies, migraine, spontaneous dissection of the
carotid or vertebral arteries.
Acidosis Ion Imbalance
Cell membranes and proteins break down,
Formation of free radicals,
Protein production decreased
Cell Injury and Death
*An Ischemic Stroke can cause a wide variety of clinical deficits depending on:
1. Location of the lesion (which vessels are obstructed)
LARGE ARTERY AFFECTED PROVIDES BLOOD SYMPTOMS WITH ARTERIAL BLOCKAGE
Left Internal Carotid Artery Left Side of the Brain Right Body Weakness, Communication
or Middle Cerebral Artery Problems, Right Body Numbness
Right Internal Carotid Artery Right Side of the Brain Left Body Weakness, Left Body Numbness
or Middle Cerebral Artery
Left Vertebral Artery, Right Base of the Brain Weakness or Numbness on either side of
Vertebral Artery, or Basilar Brainstem the body, nausea, vomiting, unsteadiness
Artery Back of the Brain of walking, severe dizziness (vertigo), or
2. Size of the Infarction
***Infarction – zone of tissue deprived of blood supply
3. Amount of collateral (secondary or accessory) blood flow
COMMON/ GENERAL SIGNS & SYMPTOMS:
• Sudden severe headache
• Numbness/ weakness of the face, arm, or leg, especially on one side of thebody
• Confusion or change in mental status
• Trouble speaking or understanding speech
• Visual disturbances
• Difficulty walking, dizziness, or loss of balance or coordination
-disturbance of voluntary motor control on the side of the body opposite the
location of the stroke lesion
- Hemiplegia (paralysis of one side of the body)
- Hemiparesis (weakness of one side of the body)
- Dysarthria (difficulty in speaking)
- Dysphasia or aphasia (defective speech or loss of speech)
-Expressive -Receptive -Global (Mixed)
- Apraxia (inability to perform a previously learned action)
- Homonymous Hemianopsia (loss of half of the visual field)
*Affected side of the body corresponds to affected visual field
- Disturbances in Visual-Spatial Relations (perceiving the relation of two or more
objects in spatial areas)
*Common among patients with Right Hemispheric Damage
- Slight impairment of touch
- Loss of proprioception (ability to perceive the position and motion of body
- Difficulty in interpreting visual, tactile, and auditory stimuli
COGNITIVE IMPAIRMENT AND PSYCHOLOGICAL EFFECTS
- Memory Loss - Lack of Motivation
- Poor Comprehension - Depression
- Limited Attention Span - Emotional Lability
- Forgetfulness - Hostility
- Lack of Cooperation
ASSESSMENT & DIAGNOSIS:
- History and Complete Physical and Neurologic Examination
- Initial Assessment: Airway Patency, Cardiovascular Status, Gross Neurologic
- Stroke Classification: Time Course Classification
Stage 1: Transient Ischemic Attack
- temporary episode of neurologic dysfunction manifested by sudden
loss of motor, sensory, or visual function lasting a few seconds or
minutes but no longer than 24 hours.
Stage 2: Reversible Ischemic Neurologic Deficits
- with signs and symptoms that are similar with TIAs but more
pronounced and last for more than 24 hours.
Stage 3: Stroke in Evolution
- a progressing stroke; worsening of neurologic signs and symptoms
over several minutes or hours.
Stage 4: Completed Stroke
- stabilization of neurologic signs and symptoms; no further progression
of hypoxic insult.
- Diagnostic Tests:
1. CT Scan – initial diagnostic test performed as basis for treatment
2. 12-Lead ECG
3. Carotid ultrasound
4. Cerebral Angiography
5. Transcranial Doppler Flow Studies
6. Transthoracic or Transesophageal Echocardiography
7. MRI of the brain and/or neck
8. Xenon CT and Single Photon Emission CT
***For the patient with TIA, a BRUIT may be heard over the carotid artery. Diminished
or absent pulsations in the neck may also be observed. Diagnostic tests may
1. Carotid Phonoangiography
- involves auscultation, direct visualization, and recording of carotid
-measures the pulsation of blood flow through the ophthalmic
3. Carotid Angiography
-allows visualization of intracranial and cervical vessels
4. Digital Subtraction Angiography
-used to define carotid artery obstruction and provides information
on patterns of cerebral blood flow
1. Identifying High-Risk Groups
STROKE RISK FACTORS
Non-Modifiable Partly Modifiable Modifiable
Increasing Age Geography/climate Hypertension
Being Male, Race (common in Heart Disease esp. Atrial
(e.g. African- Southeastern US , the Fibrillation
Americans) “Stroke Belt”) Cigarette Smoking
Diabetes Mellitus Socio-economic factors TIAs
Prior Stroke/TIAs Increased serum cholesterol/lipids
Family History Physical Inactivity
Carotid Bruit Excessive Alcohol Intake/Drug
2. Patient and Community Education about Stroke Recognition and Prevention
Non-Surgical Medical Management
1. Treatment of TIA from atrial fibrillation or suspected embolic or thrombotic causes
Warfarin Na (Coumadin)
-drug-of-choice for those with atrial fibrillation
-INR target: 2.5
Aspirin (50mg) or Dipyridamole 400 mg/d
-drug-of-choice if warfarin is contraindicated
2. Thrombolytic Therapy for Ischemic Stroke
-For patients with NIHSS score < 22
-Administration of recombinant t-PA
-Prompt Treatment (within 3 hours)
-Contraindications: Bleeding Disorder, Recent MI, Intracranial Pathology, Onset >
-Eligibility Criteria for t-PA administration
-Foley Catheter prior to t-PA
-No anticoagulants 24hrs post t-PA therapy
-Minimum Dose: 0.9 mg/kg Maximum Dose: 90mg
-Administration: Loading dose is 10% of calculated dose administered over 1
minute. Remaining dose is administered over 1 hour via infusion pump. After the
infusion, line is flushed with 20ml of NSS to ensure all medication is administered.
-Vital Signs Monitoring: BP maintained at <180/100 mmHg
-Accurate weight recorded
-Watch for side effects: Bleeding esp. intracranial bleeding
3. Therapy for Patients with Ischemic Stroke NOT Receiving Thrombolytic Therapy
-Anticoagulant Therapy (IV heparin)
-Reduce ICP (diuretics, avoid hyperventilation, positioning to avoid hypoxia, elevate
head of bed)
-Intubation, if necessary
-Continuous Hemodynamic Monitoring (BP<180/100 mmHg)
4. Managing Potential Complications
-Maintain cardiac output at 4-8 L/min
Surgical Medical Management
- Main surgical procedure for the management of TIAs and small stroke
- Removal of an atherosclerotic plaque or thrombus from a carotid artery to
prevent stroke in patients with occlusive disease of the extracranial cerebral
- Indicated for patients with symptoms of TIA or mild stroke found to be due to
- Complications: stroke, cranial nerve injuries, infection, hematoma at the incision
site, carotid artery disruption
Potential Nursing Diagnoses
o Impaired physical mobility related to hemiparesis, loss of balance and
coordination, spasticity, and brain injury
o Acute pain (painful shoulder) related to hemiplegia and disuse
o Self-care deficits (hygiene, toileting, grooming, and feeding) related to stroke
o Disturbed sensory perception related to altered sensory reception,
transmission, and/or integration
o Impaired swallowing
o Incontinence related to flaccid bladder, detrusor instability, confusion, or
difficulty in communicating
o Disturbed thought processes related to brain damage, confusion, or inability to
o Impaired verbal communication related to brain damage
o Risk for impaired skin integrity related to hemiparesis/ hemiplegia, or decreased
o Interrupted family processes related to catastrophic illness and caregiving
o Sexual dysfunction related to neurologic deficits or fear of failure
Improving Mobility and Preventing Joint Deformities
1. Correct positioning to prevent contractures
2. Prevent Shoulder Adduction
3. Positioning the Hand and Fingers
4. Changing Positions every 2 hours
-pillows between legs in lateral position; maybe positioned prone for 15-30
mins. several times a day with small pillow under the pelvis which helps
maintain normal gait and prevent knee and hip flexion contractures
Establishing an Exercise Program
1. Passive ROM exercises 4-5 times a day to maintain joint mobility, prevent
2. Repetition of Activity to form new pathways in the CNS and encourage new patterns
3. Observe for signs and symptoms that may indicate pulmonary embolus or excessive
cardiac workload during exercise.
4. Quadriceps muscle setting and gluteal setting exercises are started early to improve
muscle strength needed for walking; performed at least 5 times daily for 10 minutes at a
Preparing for Ambulation
1. Rehabilitation program begins as soon as the patient regains consciousness.
2. Tilt tables – used to bring the patient in an upright position esp. those having
orthostatic BP changes
3. Wheelchair with handbrakes (folding type) – best type of wheelchair
4. Parallel bars as soon as patient achieves balance
5. Three- of four-pronged cane as soon as patient gains strength and confidence
Preventing Shoulder Pain
Painful Shoulder - arm may be overstretched by use of excessive for when turning or
Subluxation of the Shoulder – may result from overstretching the joint capsule and
musculature by the force of gravity when the patient stands or sits in the early
stages after a stroke
Shoulder-Hand Syndrome – painful shoulder and generalized swelling of the hand
which may cause a “frozen” shoulder and ultimately the atrophy of subcutaneous
1. Position flaccid arm on a pillow or table while the patient is seated
2. Advocate the use of a sling when patient first becomes ambulatory to prevent
the paralyzed upper extremity from dangling without support.
3. ROM exercises. Avoid overstrenuous arm movements.
A. Enhancing Self-Care
1. Carry out self-care activities on the UNAFFECTED side.
2. Repetition to relearn motor skills.
3. Use of assistive devices.
4. Assessment of functional ability.
5. Street Clothes to ease movement. Dressing activities done in a seated position.
6. Keep environment organized and uncluttered.
B. Managing Sensory-Perceptual Difficulties
1. Let patient SCAN the environment by turning the head back and forth.
2. Approach patient on the unaffected visual field.
3. Increase artificial lighting in the room and encourage use of eyeglasses.
4. Constantly remind patient of the other side of the body.
*Amorphosynthesis – tendency of a patient with homonymous hemianopsia to
turn away from the affected side of the body and neglect that side and the
space on that side
C. Attaining Bowel and Bladder Control
Transient Urinary Incontinence – may arise to a patient who suffered from a
stroke due to confusion, inability to communicate needs, and inability to use
urinal or bedpan because of impaired motor and postural control
1. Intermittent Catheterization with Sterile technique.
2. Offer bedpan or urinal on a schedule.
3. Let male patients void in an upright or standing position.
D. Improving Thought Processes
1. Collaborate with primary care physician, psychiatrist, and other professionals in
structuring cognitive-perceptual retraining, visual imagery, reality orientation,
and cueing procedures to compensate for losses.
2. Supportive Role of the Nurse.
E. Improving Communication
1. Collaborate with speech pathologist.
2. Refamiliarize letters of the alphabet.
3. Talk slowly. Enunciate words well. Use simple phrases and short sentences.
4. Confront patient to facilitate lip reading.
5. Do everything to make the atmosphere conducive to communication. Provide
6. Never attempt to complete the thoughts or sentences of the patient.
7. Never hurry the patient. Allow ample time to process thoughts.
F. Maintaining Skin Integrity
1. Prevent skin and tissue breakdown.
2. Regular turning and proper positioning.
3. Keep skin clean and dry always; gentle massage and adequate nutrition.
G. Improving Family Coping
1. Provide counseling and refer to support groups.
2. Provide information. Provide assurance that their love and interest are part of
patient’s therapy. Approach family with optimism.
3. Prepare family for episodes of emotional lability.
H. Helping the Patient Cope with Sexual Dysfunction
1. Provide relevant information, education, reassurance, adjustment of medications,
counseling regarding coping skills, suggestions for alternative positions, and a means
of sexual expression.
II. HEMORRHAGIC STROKE (15%)
- caused by a tear in the artery’s wall that produces bleeding in the brain tissue,
ventricles or subarachnoid space
1. PRIMARY INTRACEREBRAL HEMORRHAGE (80%)
- spontaneous rupture of small vessels primarily caused by uncontrolled
hypertension, cerebral atherosclerosis, certain types of arterial pathology, brain
tumor, and use of meds (oral anticoagulants, amphetamines, and illicit drugs such as
crack and cocaine)
2. SECONDARY INTRACEREBRAL HEMORRHAGE
Intracranial (Cerebral) Aneurysm
- a dilation of the walls of a cerebral artery that develops as a result of the weakness
in the arterial wall; usually in the bifurcation of the large arteries at the Circle of
-Cause: Unknown. Research associating it with atherosclerosis, congenital defect of
the vessel wall ; hypertensive vascular disease; head trauma; or advancing age.
-Most Common Sites: ICA, ACA, ACoA, PCoA, PCA, and MCA.
-due to abnormality in embryonal development that leads to a tangle of arteries and
veins in the brain without a capillary bed, which leads to dilation of the arteries and
veins and eventual rupture.
-common cause of hemorrhage among young people
-hemorrhage into the subarachnoid space that may occur as a result of an AVM,
intracranial aneurysms, trauma or hypertension.
-most common cause: leaking aneurysm in the Circle of Willis or a congenital AVM.
• May present with neurologic deficits similar with Ischemic Stroke
• Sudden, Unusually Severe Headache
• Loss of Consciousness for a Variable Period
• Signs of Meningeal Irritation: Nuchal Rigidity
• Visual Disturbances (visual loss, diplopia, ptosis)
• Tinnitus, Dizziness, Hemiparesis
ASSESSMENT & DIAGNOSIS:
1. CT Scan – to determine the size and location of the hematoma as well as the
presence or absence of ventricular blood and hydrocephalus
2. Cerebral Angiography – along with CT Scan confirm the diagnosis of cerebral
aneurysm or AVM; provide information about the affected arteries, veins, adjoining
vessels, and vascular branches.
3. Lumbar Puncture – performed if there is no evidence of increased ICP, CT Scan
results are negative, and confirmed subarachnoid hemorrhage.
4. Toxicology for Illicit Drug Use – performed for patients younger than 40 years old.
5. Hunt-Hess Classification System – guides physician in diagnosing severity of
subarachnoid hemorrhage after aneurismal bleed.
1. Manage hypertension and ameliorate other risk factors.
2. Avoid other factors similar with Ischemic Stroke.
3. Stroke Risks Screenings.
4. Increase public awareness about the association of hemorrhagic stroke with
phenylpropanolamine (a substance in cold and cough agents and appetite
suppressants), esp. in women.
Non-Surgical Medical Management
-To allow the brain to recover from the initial insult (bleeding)
-To prevent or minimize risk of rebleeding
-To prevent or treat complications
1. Bed rest with sedation to prevent agitation and stress.
2. Management of vasospasm.
3. Analgesics (Codeine, Acetaminophen) for head and neck pain
4. Elastic compression stockings to prevent DVT.
*Not advised for primary intracerebral hemorrhage
- surgical evacuation performed in a patient with cerebellar hemorrhage with a
diameter > 3 cm and GCS < 14.
-done when patient condition is stable
2. Surgery for unruptured aneurysm
-goal: to prevent bleeding by isolating the aneurysm from its circulation by means of
a ligature or a clip across its neck or by strengthening the arterial wall by wrapping
with muslin or other substance to provide support and induce scarring.
3. Extracranial-intracranial Arterial Bypass
- performed to establish collateral blood supply to allow surgery on the aneurysm
4. Less Invasive Endovascular Treatments
-Endovascular Treatment (occlusion of the parent artery)
-Aneurysm Coiling (obstruction of the aneurysm site with a coil)
PostOp Complications: Psychological Symptoms, Intraoperative Emboization,
Postoperative Internal Artery Occlusion, F&E Disturbances, GI bleeding
Potential Nursing Diagnoses
o Ineffective cerebral tissue perfusion related to bleeding
o Disturbed sensory perception related to medically imposed restrictions
o Anxiety related to illness and/or medically imposed restrictions (aneurysm
1. Optimize Cerebral Tissue Perfusion
-Implement Aneurysm Precautions
2. Relieving Sensory Deprivation and Anxiety
3. Monitoring and Managing Potential Complications
-Assess for: intensified headaches, decrease consciousness, evidence of aphasia or
-Administer calcium-channel blockers or fluid volume expander
-Institute seizure precautions
-DOC: Dilantin (Phenytoin)
-provides adequate antiseizure action while causing no drowsiness
-Observe for signs of hydrocephalus
-Report changes in responsiveness immediately
-Watch for symptoms: sudden severe headache, nausea, vomiting, decreased level
of consciousness, neurologic deficit,
-Administer antifibrinolytic meds
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