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Two types of thrombosis can cause stroke: An embolic stroke refers to an arterial embolism (a blockage of an artery) by an embolus, a traveling particle or debris in the arterial bloodstream originating from elsewhere.

An embolus is most frequently a thrombus, but it can also be a number of other substances including fat (e.g., from bone marrow in a broken bone), air, cancer cells or clumps of bacteria (usually from infectious endocarditis).

The 24-hour limit divides stroke from transient ischemic attack, which is a related syndrome of stroke symptoms that resolve completely within 24 hours.

A scoring system called ROSIER (recognition of stroke in the emergency room) is recommended for this purpose; it is based on features from the medical history and physical examination.

If the area of the brain affected contains one of the three prominent central nervous system pathways—the spinothalamic tract, corticospinal tract, and the posterior column–medial lemniscus pathway, symptoms may include: In most cases, the symptoms affect only one side of the body (unilateral).

Depending on the part of the brain affected, the defect in the brain is usually on the opposite side of the body.

However, since these pathways also travel in the spinal cord and any lesion there can also produce these symptoms, the presence of any one of these symptoms does not necessarily indicate a stroke.

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