What Is a Cerebrovascular Accident? Betty White Died After Having Stroke

U.S. actress and comedian Betty White's cause of death has been listed as a stroke, according to her death certificate.

The certificate, obtained by various news outlets, stated that her official cause of death was a cerebrovascular accident—the medical term for a stroke—that had occurred six days prior.

White died on December 31 at the age of 99 at her home in Los Angeles. Tributes, from fellow media stars like George Takei and Ellen DeGeneres, poured in shortly after her death was reported.

A stroke or cerebrovascular accident is defined as a loss of blood flow to part of the brain, which can result in damage to brain tissue.

There are three main types of stroke. Ischemic strokes, which make up the vast majority of strokes at around 87 percent according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), occur when blood flow is interrupted by a blockage such as a blood clot.

Another type is a hemorrhagic stroke, which happens when an artery in the brain breaks open or leaks blood. This can put pressure on brain cells, leading to damage.

There are also transient ischemic attacks, also called mini strokes. These are different from the major types of stroke because they only occur for a short time—usually no more than 5 minutes.

It should be noted that a mini stroke is still a medical emergency and thus requires emergency care. They are also a warning sign of a future stroke.

People with symptoms of stroke should call emergency services immediately. Symptoms include, according to the CDC: Sudden numbness or weakness in the face, arm, or leg, especially on one side of the body; sudden confusion, trouble speaking, or difficulty understanding speech; sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes; sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance, or lack of coordination; sudden severe headache with no known cause.

The agency also highlights the FAST test, which stands for Face, Arms, Speech, and Time. The F step is to ask someone to smile to see if one side of their face droops. The A step is to ask them to raise both arms to see if one arm drifts downward. The S step is to ask them to repeat a simple phrase to see if it is slurred or strange. The T step is to call emergency services if any of those signs are observed.

Medical care should be given as fast as possible. The CDC states people should note the time that any symptoms appear in order to help doctors.

The risk of stroke is increased by high blood pressure, older age, smoking, diabetes, high cholesterol, heart disease, atherosclerosis (a build-up of fatty material inside the coronary arteries), and a family history of stroke, according to the U.S. National Cancer Institute. African Americans are also at higher risk, MedlinePlus states.

Newsweek has previously reported on a patient who experienced a mini stroke related a COVID diagnosis.

Doctors can treat strokes by dissolving blood clots in the brain or lowering blood pressure. Medicine or surgery can be used to treat strokes.

Betty White
Betty White smiling at a fundraising event at Los Angeles Zoo in California in June, 2015. The comedian and actress died on December 31, 2021. Vincent Sandoval/Getty/WireImage