A black and white sculpture of a human brain.
During a diabetic stroke, the brain is cut off from the body's oxygen supply.

What to Know About a Diabetic Stroke

People with diabetes have a higher-than-average risk of suffering from strokes. This is due to the way high blood sugar levels affect the blood vessels. In this article, we explain what causes a diabetic stroke, the symptoms, treatments and how to prevent them. Here’s all you need to know.

What Is a Diabetic Stroke?

A stroke is a serious cardiovascular event that interrupts blood flow to the brain and prevents it from getting enough oxygen. There are two primary types of stroke: ischemic and hemorrhagic.

Ischemic Strokes

In ischemic strokes, a blood clot gets stuck in the narrow blood vessels of the neck or brain. It blocks the blood flow and starves part of the brain of oxygen, leading to tissue damage. Ischemic strokes are the most common type of strokes, occurring in approximately 8 out of 10 cases.

Hemorrhagic Strokes

In hemorrhagic strokes, a blood vessel in the brain bursts and begins to bleed. Again, this prevents part of the brain from getting the oxygen it needs and causes tissue damage.

Transient Ischemic Attack

A third type of stroke is known as a transient ischemic attack (TIA), or mini stroke. These strokes are so minor that people often do not realize they have happened. However, TIAs are a significant risk factor for having more severe strokes in the future.

What Are the Risk Factors?

Risk factors for strokes include:

  • Advanced age
  • Ethnicity
  • Family history
  • Obesity
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Diabetes
  • Smoking
  • Alcohol consumption
  • Physical inactivity

If a stroke is not treated quickly, it can lead to problems with communication, movement and eyesight. Therefore, it is essential to be familiar with the symptoms of a stroke and seek urgent medical care if they occur.

Diabetic Stroke Symptoms

The symptoms of a stroke can vary depending on the area of the brain that is being deprived of oxygen:

  • Drooping or weakness on one side of the face
  • Numbness or weakness on one side of the body
  • Inability to raise the arms and hold them in position
  • Difficulty speaking or understanding speech
  • Blurred or double vision
  • Dizziness
  • Loss of balance or difficulty walking
  • Sudden, severe headache

If any of these symptoms occur, seek medical attention immediately. It is important to see a doctor, even if these stroke symptoms resolve themselves quickly. They could be due to a TIA and should be investigated further.

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What Causes a Diabetic Stroke?

People with diabetes are more likely to have strokes because high blood sugar negatively impacts the cardiovascular system. When there is too much sugar in the blood, it sticks to red blood cells, clogging up and damaging the vessels.

Furthermore, diabetes is often associated with other cardiovascular problems, such as high blood pressure and dyslipidemia. These are also independent risk factors for strokes.


Dyslipidemia is a term doctors use to describe excess cholesterol and triglycerides (fats) in the blood. Over time, these substances can build up in the blood vessels, sticking to their walls and forming plaques.

These plaques make the blood vessels hard and narrow, making it harder for the blood to pass through. When the blood flow slows down in this way, clots can easily form. If one of these clots travels to the brain, it can cause a stroke.

High Blood Pressure

High blood pressure can also raise the risk of strokes. When blood is pushing hard against the walls of the blood vessels, it makes them more likely to burst. If a person has weakened blood vessels due to diabetes, the risk is even higher.

Therefore, people with diabetes, dyslipidemia and high blood pressure have a very high risk of strokes. They are more common in people with type 2 diabetes, although people with type 1 diabetes may also be affected.

Diabetic Stroke Treatment Options

The most effective treatment for a stroke will depend upon the type of stroke and how quickly it is treated.

Clot-Busting Drugs

For ischemic strokes, doctors may use “clot busting” drugs to dissolve the blood clot and minimize brain damage. However, these medicines are only effective within the first few hours following a stroke. This is why it is so important to receive medical attention as soon as possible.


Another treatment option for ischemic strokes is surgery. This might involve removing the clot itself or performing surgery on the carotid artery in the neck. Doctors may remove fatty build-ups from the artery or insert a stent (a small tube designed to keep the vessel open).


For hemorrhagic strokes, the most common treatment is a craniotomy. This surgery involves draining excess blood from the brain and repairing any damaged vessels.


Following a stroke, many patients will need rehabilitation. This might include physical therapy, speech therapy, or occupational therapy.
Doctors may also prescribe drugs to reduce the risk of future strokes. Common examples include anticoagulants (blood thinners), blood pressure and cholesterol medication.

Prevention Methods

The best way to prevent diabetic strokes is by keeping blood sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol levels under control.

Get Regular Check-ups

Attend regular health screenings and pay close attention to HbA1c readings. HbA1c readings indicate blood sugar levels over a period of weeks or months rather than at a specific point in time.

Take Medicine Prescribed by Doctor

Take any medication according to the prescribing doctor’s instructions and manage blood sugar levels by eating well and exercising regularly.
It is also important to minimize lifestyle-related stroke risk factors as much as possible. Maintain a healthy weight, do not smoke and avoid excessive alcohol consumption.

Consume a Heart-Healthy Diet

Eat a heart-healthy diet, with plenty of plant-based foods, fish and whole grains. Reduce consumption of red meat, dairy products and fried or fatty foods to keep cholesterol levels in check. Finally, minimize salt intake to help prevent high blood pressure.

By making these lifestyle adjustments, people with diabetes can reduce their risk of diabetic strokes, as well as other complications.