Hemorrhagic Stroke Treatment & Management

Updated: Apr 22, 2019
  • Author: David S Liebeskind, MD, FAAN, FAHA, FANA; Chief Editor: Andrew K Chang, MD, MS  more...
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Approach Considerations

The treatment and management of patients with acute intracerebral hemorrhage depends on the cause and severity of the bleeding. Basic life support, as well as control of bleeding, seizures, blood pressure (BP), and intracranial pressure, are critical. Medications used in the treatment of acute stroke include the following:

  • Anticonvulsants - To prevent seizure recurrence

  • Antihypertensive agents - To reduce BP and other risk factors of heart disease

  • Osmotic diuretics - To decrease intracranial pressure in the subarachnoid space

Management begins with stabilization of vital signs. Perform endotracheal intubation for patients with a decreased level of consciousness and poor airway protection. Intubate and hyperventilate if intracranial pressure is elevated, and initiate administration of mannitol for further control. Rapidly stabilize vital signs, and simultaneously acquire an emergent computed tomography (CT) scan. Glucose levels should be monitored, with normoglycemia recommended. [1] Antacids are used to prevent associated gastric ulcers.

No effective targeted therapy for hemorrhagic stroke exists yet. Studies of recombinant factor VIIa (rFVIIa) have yielded disappointing results. Evacuation of hematoma, either via open craniotomy or endoscopy, may be a promising ultra-early-stage treatment for intracerebral hemorrhage that may improve long-term prognosis.

A combined analysis of INTERACT (Intensive Blood Pressure Reduction in Acute Cerebral Hemorrhage Trial) 1 and 2 suggested that in patients with intracerebral hemorrhage, intensive BP reduction early in their treatment lessens the absolute growth of hematomas, with the effect being especially pronounced in patients who have undergone prior antithrombotic therapy. [30]

The study involved 1310 patients who had undergone repeat 24-hour CT scans, including 665 who received intensive BP reduction therapy (target BP < 140 mm Hg systolic) and 645 controls (target BP < 180 mm Hg systolic). [30] A total of 235 patients in the intensive reduction and control groups had received antithrombotic medication prior to intracerebral hemorrhage.

The investigators found that, in patients who had not had prior antithrombotic therapy, hematoma volume increased 1.1 mL on repeat CT scan in those who underwent intensive BP reduction, compared with 2.4 mL in controls. [30] In patients who had previously taken antithrombotics, however, the difference between the intensive-reduction and control groups was much greater, with the increase in hematoma volume being 3.4 mL in the intensive-reduction patients and 8.1 mL in the controls.


Management of Seizures

Early seizure activity occurs in 4-28% of patients with intracerebral hemorrhage; these seizures are often nonconvulsive. [31, 32] According to American Heart Association/American Stroke Association (AHA/ASA) 2010 guidelines for the management of spontaneous intracerebral hemorrhage, patients with clinical seizures or electroencephalographic (EEG) seizure activity accompanied by a change in mental status should be treated with antiepileptic drugs. [1]

Patients for whom treatment is indicated should immediately receive a benzodiazepine, such as lorazepam or diazepam, for rapid seizure control. This should be accompanied by phenytoin or fosphenytoin loading for longer-term control.


The utility of prophylactic anticonvulsant medication remains uncertain. In prospective and population-based studies, clinical seizures have not been associated with worse neurologic outcome or mortality. Indeed, 2 studies have reported worse outcomes in patients who did not have a documented seizure but who received antiepileptic drugs (primarily phenytoin). [1]

The 2010 AHA/ASA guidelines do not offer recommendations on prophylactic anticonvulsants, but suggest that continuous EEG monitoring is probably indicated in patients with intracranial hemorrhage whose mental status is depressed out of proportion to the degree of brain injury

Prophylactic anticonvulsant therapy has been recommended in patients with lobar hemorrhages to reduce the risk of early seizures. One large, single-center study showed that prophylactic antiepileptic drugs significantly reduced the number of clinical seizures in these patients. [31]

In addition, AHA/ASA guidelines from 2012 suggest that prophylactic anticonvulsants may be considered for patients with aneurysmal subarachnoid hemorrhage. In such cases, however, anticonvulsant use should generally be limited to the immediate post-hemorrhagic period. Routine long-term use is not recommended, but it may be considered in patients with a prior seizure history, intracerebral hematoma, intractable hypertension, or infarction or aneurysm at the middle cerebral artery. [33]


Blood Pressure Control

No controlled studies have defined optimum BP levels for patients with acute hemorrhagic stroke, but greatly elevated BP is thought to lead to rebleeding and hematoma expansion. Stroke may result in loss of cerebral autoregulation of cerebral perfusion pressure.

Intensive BP reduction (target BP < 140 mm Hg systolic) early in the treatment of patients with intracerebral hemorrhage appears to lessen the absolute growth of hematomas, particularly in patients who have received previous antithrombotic therapy, according to a combined analysis of the Intensive Blood Pressure Reduction in Acute Cerebral Hemorrhage Trials 1 and 2 (INTERACT). [30]

Suggested agents for use in the acute setting are beta blockers (eg, labetalol) and angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors (ACEIs) (eg, enalapril). For more refractory hypertension, agents such as nicardipine and hydralazine are used. Avoid nitroprusside because it may raise intracranial pressure.

The 2010 AHA/ASA guidelines acknowledge that evidence for the efficacy of managing BP in hemorrhagic stroke is currently incomplete. With that caveat, the AHA/ASA recommendations for treating elevated BP are as follows [1] :

  • If systolic BP is over 200 mm Hg or mean arterial pressure (MAP) is over 150 mm Hg, then consider aggressive reduction of BP with continuous IV infusion; check BP every 5 minutes

  • If systolic BP is over 180 mm Hg or MAP is over 130 mm Hg and intracranial pressure may be elevated, then consider monitoring intracranial pressure and reducing BP using intermittent or continuous intravenous medications, while maintaining a cerebral perfusion pressure of 60 mm Hg or higher

  • If systolic BP is over 180 or MAP is over 130 mm Hg and there is no evidence of elevated intracranial pressure, then consider modest reduction of BP (target MAP of 110 mm Hg or target BP of 160/90 mm Hg) using intermittent or continuous intravenous medications to control it, and perform clinical reexamination of the patient every 15 minutes

  • In patients presenting with a systolic BP of 150 to 220 mm Hg, acute lowering of systolic BP to 140 mm Hg is probably safe

For patients with aneurysmal subarachnoid hemorrhage, the 2012 AHA/ASA guidelines recommend lowering BP below 160 mm Hg acutely to reduce rebleeding. [33]

A 2017 joint practice guideline from the American College of Physicians (ACP) and the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) calls for physicians to start treatment for patients who have persistent systolic blood pressure at or above 150 mm Hg to achieve a target of less than 150 mm Hg to reduce risk for stroke, cardiac events, and death. [34]

The ongoing Antihypertensive Treatment in Acute Cerebral Hemorrhage-II (ATACH-II) phase 3 randomized clinical trial is designed to determine whether the likelihood of death or disability at 3 months after spontaneous supratentorial intracerebral hemorrhage is lower when systolic BP has been reduced to 180 mm Hg or below or to 140 mm Hg or below. In ATACH-II, intravenous nicardipine is started within 3 hours of stroke onset and continued for the next 24 hours.


Intracranial Pressure Control

Elevated intracranial pressure may result from the hematoma itself, from surrounding edema, or from both. The frequency of increased intracranial pressure in patients with intracerebral hemorrhage is not known.

Elevate the head of the bed to 30°. This improves jugular venous outflow and lowers intracranial pressure. The head should be midline and not turned to the side. Provide analgesia and sedation as needed. Antacids are used to prevent gastric ulcers associated with intracerebral hemorrhage.

More aggressive therapies, such as osmotic therapy (ie, mannitol, hypertonic saline), barbiturate anesthesia, and neuromuscular blockage, generally require concomitant monitoring of intracranial pressure and BP with an intracranial pressure monitor to maintain adequate cerebral perfusion pressure of greater than 70 mm Hg. A randomized, controlled study of mannitol in intracerebral hemorrhage failed to demonstrate any difference in disability or death at 3 months. [35]

Hyperventilation (partial pressure of carbon dioxide [PaCO2] of 25 to 30-35 mm Hg) is not recommended, because its effect is transient, it decreases cerebral blood flow, and it may result in rebound elevated intracranial pressure. [3] Glucocorticoids are not effective and result in higher rates of complications with poorer outcomes.


Hemostatic Therapy

The use of hemostatic therapy with rFVIIa to stop ongoing hemorrhage or prevent hematoma expansion has generated much interest. However, research to date has failed to support this off-label use of rFVIIa. [36, 37, 38]

A preliminary study of treatment rFVIIa demonstrated reduced mortality and improved functional outcomes. Unfortunately, the results of a subsequent randomized trial that was larger than the preliminary study revealed no overall benefit from treatment; hemostatic therapy with rFVIIa reduced growth of the hematoma but did not improve survival or functional outcome. [39]

Diringer et al found that a higher dose of rFVIIa was associated with a small increase in the risk of arterial thromboembolic events in patients who presented less than 3 hours after spontaneous intracerebral hemorrhage. Arterial events were also associated with the presence of cardiac or cerebral ischemia at presentation, with advanced age, and with antiplatelet use. [40]

The investigators also found that with the use of 20 or 80 mcg/kg rFVIIa, the rates of venous events were similar to those with placebo.


Treatment of Anticoagulation-associated Intracranial Hemorrhage

Patients on warfarin have an increased incidence of hemorrhagic stroke. Morbidity and mortality for warfarin-associated bleeding is high, with over one half of patients dying within 30 days. Most episodes occur with a therapeutic international normalized ratio (INR), but overanticoagulation is associated with an even greater risk of bleeding.

The need to reverse warfarin anticoagulation is a true medical emergency, and reversal must be accomplished as quickly as possible to prevent further hematoma expansion. Options for reversal therapy include the following:

  • Intravenous vitamin K

  • Fresh frozen plasma (FFP)

  • Prothrombin complex concentrates (PCC)

  • rFVIIa

FFP versus PCC

Because vitamin K requires more than 6 hours to normalize the INR, it should be administered with either FFP or PCC. FFP is the standard of care in the United States [41] ; however, FFP needs to be given in a dose of 15-20 mL/kg and therefore requires a large-volume infusion. PCC contains high levels of vitamin K-dependent cofactors and thus involves a smaller-volume infusion than FFP and more rapid administration. [42, 43] However, PCC is associated with high rates of thrombotic complications.

No randomized, controlled trial has studied the safety and efficacy of FFP versus PCC for reversing the effects of warfarin in patients with intracranial hemorrhage. The International Normalised ratio normalisation in patients with Coumarin-related intracranial Haemorrhages (INCH) trial, a prospective, randomized, controlled, multicenter trial comparing the 2 agents, began recruiting subjects in 2009. [44]


Based upon the available medical evidence, the use of FVIIa is currently not recommended over other agents. The PCC available in the United States contains only low levels of FVII, however, and Sarode et al have described successful, rapid reversal of vitamin K antagonist–related coagulopathy using a combination of low-dose FVIIa with PCC, although they note the need for caution in patients at high risk for thrombosis. [41]

Patients on heparin (either unfractionated or low molecular weight heparin [LMWH]) who develop a hemorrhagic stroke should immediately have anticoagulation reversed with protamine. [3] The dose of protamine is dependent upon the dose of heparin that was given and the time elapsed since that dose.

Patients with severe deficiency of a specific coagulation factor who develop spontaneous intracerebral hemorrhage should receive factor replacement therapy. [1]

Reversal of antiplatelet therapy and platelet dysfunction

There is controversy about whether patients on antiplatelet medications (eg, aspirin, aspirin/dipyridamole [Aggrenox], clopidogrel) should be given desmopressin (DDAVP) and/or platelet transfusions. Patients with renal failure and platelet dysfunction may also benefit from the administration of desmopressin (DDAVP). The 2010 AHA/ASA guideline for management of spontaneous intracerebral hemorrhage recommends platelet transfusions only when such hemorrhaging complicates severe thrombocytopenia. [1]



Inpatient statin use and maintenance may improve outcomes post intracerebral hemorrhage.

In a retrospective multicenter cohort study of 3481 patients with intracerebral hemorrhage over a 10-year period, Flint et al found that inpatients who received a statin (lovastatin, simvastatin, atorvastatin, pravastatin sodium) had better 30-day survival rates following the bleeding event and were more likely to be discharged home or to a rehabilitation center than those who didn’t receive a statin while hospitalized—despite the fact that the statin users had significantly more severe illness and more comorbidities than non statin users. [45, 46] Moreover, those whose statins were discontinued during their hospitalization had worse outcomes than those who remained on statins.

Inpatients treated with a statin had an 18.4% unadjusted 30-day mortality rate compared to 38.7% for those not treated with a statin during their admission. [45, 46] After adjustment for various factors (age, sex, race/ethnicity, comorbidities, number of intracerebral hemorrhage cases by hospital, dysphagia), statin users were also more likely to be alive at 30 days (odds ratio [OR], 4.25; 95% confidence interval [CI], 3.46-5.23; P< .001). Inpatients treated with statins had a 51.1% rate of discharge to home or to a rehabilitation facility compared to 35.0% for patients not treated with statins while hospitalized. Furthermore, patients who discontinued statin therapy after hospital admission had an unadjusted mortality rate of 57.8% compared to 18.9% for patients using a statin before and during hospitalization; they were also significantly less likely to be alive at 30 days (OR, 0.16; 95% CI, 0.12-0.21; P< .001). [45, 46]


Invasive Therapy

A potential treatment for hemorrhagic stroke is surgical evacuation of the hematoma. However, the role of surgical treatment for supratentorial intracranial hemorrhage remains controversial. Outcomes in published studies are conflicting. The international multicenter Trial in Intracerebral Haemorrhage (STICH), which compared early surgery with initial conservative treatment, failed to demonstrate a surgery-related benefit. [47]

In contrast, a meta-analysis of trials for surgical treatment of spontaneous supratentorial intracerebral hemorrhage found evidence for improved outcome with surgery if any of the following applied [48] :

  • Surgery undertaken within 8 hours of ictus

  • Volume of the hematoma 20-50 mL

  • Glasgow coma score 9-12

  • Patient age 50-69 years

In addition, evidence suggests that a subset of patients with lobar hematoma but no intraventricular hemorrhage may benefit from intervention. [49] A study in this group of patients (STICH II) has been completed, but results are still pending. [50]

In patients with cerebellar hemorrhage, surgical intervention has been shown to improve outcome if the hematoma is greater than 3 cm in diameter. It can be lifesaving in the prevention of brainstem compression.

Endovascular treatment of aneurysms

Endovascular therapy using coil embolization, as an alternative to surgical clipping, has been increasingly employed in recent years with great success (see the following images), although controversy still exists over which treatment is ultimately superior.

A cerebral angiogram was performed in a 57-year-ol A cerebral angiogram was performed in a 57-year-old man with a family history of subarachnoid hemorrhage and who was found on previous imaging to have a left distal internal carotid artery (ICA) aneurysm. The lateral projection from this angiogram demonstrates a narrow-necked aneurysm arising off the posterior aspect of the distal supraclinoid left ICA, with an additional nipplelike projection off the inferior aspect of the dome of the aneurysm. There is also a mild, lobulated dilatation of the cavernous left ICA.
Follow-up cerebral angiogram after coil embolizati Follow-up cerebral angiogram after coil embolization in a 57-year-old man with a left distal internal carotid artery aneurysm. Multiple coils were placed with sequential occlusion of the aneurysm, including the nipple at its inferior aspect. A small amount of residual filling is noted at the proximal neck of the aneurysm, which may thrombose over time.

The International Subarachnoid Aneurysm Trial (ISAT) of neurosurgical clipping versus endovascular coiling reported that independent survival was higher at 1 year with endovascular coiling and that the survival benefit continued for at least 7 years. [51] This randomized, multicenter, international trial included 2143 patients. The investigators also noted that the risk of late rebleeding was small in both groups but higher in the endovascular coiling group, reconfirming the higher long-term anatomic cure rate of surgery. [51, 52]

More recently, the Barrow Ruptured Aneurysm Trial (BRAT), which included 358 patients, demonstrated superior functional outcome at 1 year with endovascular coil embolization than with microsurgical clipping for acutely ruptured intracerebral aneurysm. Further, in contrast to the ISAT results, no patient in the endovascular embolization group suffered a recurrent hemorrhage. [53] Outcomes at 3-year follow-up of the BRAT patients continued to favor coil embolization, though the difference no longer reached statistical significance. [54]

Endovascular treatment of aneurysms may be favored over surgical clipping under the following circumstances [55] :

  • The aneurysm is in a location that is difficult to access surgically, such as the cavernous internal carotid artery (ICA) or the basilar terminus

  • The aneurysm is small-necked and located in the posterior fossa

  • The patient is elderly

  • The patient has a poor clinical grade

The following factors militate against endovascular treatment:

  • Wide-based aneurysms or those without an identifiable neck

  • Aneurysms with a vessel extending off the aneurysm dome

  • Severely atherosclerotic or tortuous vessels that limit the endovascular approach

Although vasospasm may be treated with intra-arterial pharmaceutical agents, such as verapamil or nicardipine, balloon angioplasty can be used for opening larger vessels (see the images below). The combination of the 2 treatments appears to provide safe and long-lasting therapy for severe, clinically significant vasospasm. [56]

Frontal view from a cerebral angiogram in a 41-yea Frontal view from a cerebral angiogram in a 41-year-man who presented 7 days earlier with subarachnoid hemorrhage from a ruptured anterior communicating artery (ACA) aneurysm (which was treated with surgical clipping). There is significant narrowing of the proximal left ACA, left M1 segment, and left supraclinoid internal carotid artery, indicating vasospasm.
Angiographic view in a 41-year-man who presented 7 Angiographic view in a 41-year-man who presented 7 days earlier with subarachnoid hemorrhage from a ruptured anterior communicating artery (ACA) aneurysm (which was treated with surgical clipping). Superimposed road map image demonstrates placement of a wire across the left M1 segment and balloon angioplasty. The left proximal ACA and supraclinoid internal carotid artery (ICA) were also angioplastied, and intra-arterial verapamil was administered. Follow-up image on the right after treatment demonstrates resolution of the left M1 segment and distal ICA, which are now widely patent. Residual narrowing is seen in the left proximal ACA.


Placement of an intraventricular catheter for cerebrospinal fluid drainage (ie, ventriculostomy) is often used in the setting of obstructive hydrocephalus, which is a common complication of thalamic hemorrhage with third-ventricle compression and of cerebellar hemorrhage with fourth-ventricle compression. Ventriculostomies are associated with a risk of infection, including bacterial meningitis.


Prevention of Hemorrhagic Stroke


The 2010 AHA/ASA guidelines for spontaneous ICH recommend that after acute intracerebral hemorrhage, patients without medical contraindications should have BP well controlled, especially for hemorrhage in typical hypertensive vasculopathy locations. [1] In addition, the guidelines strongly recommend maintenance of BP below 140/90 mm Hg to prevent a first stroke. In patients with hypertension plus either diabetes or renal disease, the treatment goal is BP below 130/80 mm Hg. [57]

BP-lowering medications include thiazide diuretics, calcium channel blockers, angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors (ACEIs), and angiotensin receptor blockers (ARBs). For patients with diabetes, the use of ACEIs and ARBs to treat hypertension is a class I-A recommendation (strongest and best-documented), according to the 2011 AHA/ASA primary prevention guidelines. [1] Beta blockers are considered second-line agents given their inferiority in preventing vascular events, despite producing similar reductions in BP. (Adverse effects of ACEIs include cough [10%], which is less common with ARBs.)

Although statin therapy is recommended for primary prevention of ischemic stroke (class I-A recommendation), [57] especially if other risk factors are present, some studies have found an increased risk of intracerebral hemorrhage with statin use. However, a meta-analysis of 31 randomized, controlled trials of statin therapy found that active statin therapy was not associated with a significant increase in intracerebral hemorrhage. [58]

In the Heart Outcomes Prevention Evaluation (HOPE) study, the addition of the ACEI ramipril to all other medical therapy, including antiplatelet agents, reduced the relative risk of stroke, death, and myocardial infarction by 32% compared with placebo. [59] Only 40% of the efficacy of ramipril could be attributed to its BP-lowering effects. Other postulated mechanisms included endothelial protection.

Whether the beneficial effect of ramipril represents a class effect of ACEIs or whether it is a property unique to ramipril is unclear.

In the Perindopril Protection Against Recurrent Stroke Study (PROGRESS), a regimen based on perindopril, an ACEI, was superior to placebo. [60] Although this drug alone was not superior to placebo, the combination of perindopril with indapamide (a thiazide diuretic) substantially reduced the recurrence of stroke. [60] Much of the effect in reducing stroke recurrence was attributable to the lowering of BP, in contrast to findings for ramipril from the HOPE study.

The Antihypertensive and Lipid-Lowering Treatment to Prevent Heart Attack Trial (ALLHAT) showed slight superiority of chlorthalidone (a thiazide diuretic) over lisinopril (an ACEI) in terms of stroke occurrence. [61]

The Losartan Intervention for Endpoint Reduction in Hypertension Study (LIFE) demonstrated that an ARB (losartan) was superior to a beta blocker (atenolol) in reducing the occurrence of stroke. [62]

The Morbidity and Mortality after Stroke, Eprosartan Compared With Nitrendipine for Secondary Prevention (MOSES) study found that the ARB eprosartan was superior to the calcium channel blocker nitrendipine in the secondary prevention of stroke and transient ischemic attack (TIA). [63] This was true despite comparable BP reductions. The absolute annual difference in stroke and TIA risk was approximately 4%. The study was relatively small, and most events were TIAs.

Lifestyle interventions

Smoking cessation, a low-fat diet (eg, Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension [DASH] or Mediterranean diets), weight loss, and regular exercise should be encouraged as strongly as pharmacologic treatment. Written prescriptions for exercise and medications for smoking cessation (ie, nicotine patch, bupropion, varenicline) increase the likelihood of success with these interventions.

Reducing sodium intake and increasing consumption of foods high in potassium to reduce BP may also help in primary prevention. [57] High alcohol intake should be reduced, as drinking more than 30 drinks per month has been tied to increased risk of intracerebral hemorrhage.


A Finnish study showed that the likelihood of stroke in men with the lowest degree of physical fitness (maximal oxygen uptake [VO2max] < 25.2 mL/kg/min) was more than 3 times greater than in men with the highest degree of physical fitness (VO2max >35.3 mL/kg/min). [64] level of physical fitness was a more powerful risk factor than low-density lipoprotein cholesterol level, body mass index, and smoking, and it was nearly comparable to hypertension as a risk factor.

The 2011 AHA/ASA guidelines for the primary prevention of stroke, which address hemorrhagic and ischemic stroke, emphasize exercise and other lifestyle modifications. The guidelines endorse the 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, which include a recommendation of at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity. [57]



Emergent neurosurgical or neurologic consultation is often indicated; local referral patterns may vary. The need for invasive intracranial pressure monitoring and for emergent cerebral angiography should be assessed by the neurosurgeon. Patients in whom the hemorrhage’s cause is unclear and who would otherwise be candidates for surgery should be considered for angiographic evaluation. Also see Stroke Team Creation and Primary Stroke Center Certification.