What Is a Stroke?

Stroke is a medical emergency and a leading cause of death. It occurs when a blood vessel in the brain bursts or, more commonly, when a blockage develops. Without treatment, cells in the brain quickly begin to die. The result can be serious disability or death. If a loved one is having stroke symptoms, seek emergency medical attention without delay.

Stroke Symptoms

Signs of a stroke may include:

  • Sudden numbness or weakness of the body, especially on one side.
  • Sudden vision changes in one or both eyes, or difficulty swallowing.
  • Sudden, severe headache with unknown cause.
  • Sudden problems with dizziness, walking, or balance.
  • Sudden confusion, difficulty speaking or understanding others

Stroke: Time = Brain Damage

Every second counts when seeking treatment for a stroke. When deprived of oxygen, brain cells begin dying within minutes. There are clot-busting drugs that can curb brain damage, but they need to be used within three hours -- up to 4.5 hours in some people -- of the initial stroke symptoms. Once brain tissue has died, the body parts controlled by that area won't work properly. This is why stroke is a top cause of long-term disability.

Ischemic Stroke

The most common type of stroke is known as an ischemic stroke. Nearly nine out of 10 strokes fall into this category. The culprit is a blood clot that obstructs a blood vessel inside the brain. The clot may develop on the spot or travel through the blood from elsewhere in the body.

Hemorrhagic Stroke

Hemorrhagic strokes are less common but far more likely to be fatal. They occur when a weakened blood vessel in the brain bursts. The result is bleeding inside the brain that can be difficult to stop.

'Mini-Stroke' (TIA)

A transient ischemic attack, often called a "mini-stroke," is more like a close call. Blood flow is temporarily impaired to part of the brain, causing symptoms similar to an actual stroke. When the blood flows again, the symptoms disappear. A TIA is a warning sign that a stroke may happen soon. It's critical to seek emergency medical help if you think you've had a TIA. There are therapies to reduce the risk of stroke.

What Causes a Stroke

A common cause of stroke is atherosclerosis -- hardening of the arteries. Plaque made of fat, cholesterol, calcium, and other substances builds up in the arteries, leaving less space for blood to flow. A blood clot may lodge in this narrow space and cause an ischemic stroke. Atherosclerosis also makes it easier for a clot to form. Hemorrhagic strokes often result from uncontrolled high blood pressure that causes a weakened artery to burst.

Risk Factors: Chronic Conditions

Certain chronic conditions increase your risk of stroke. These include:

  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Diabetes
  • Obesity

Taking steps to control these conditions may reduce your risk

Risk Factors You Can't Control

Some stroke risk factors are beyond your control, such as getting older or having a family history of strokes. Gender plays a role, too, with men being more likely to have a stroke. However, more stroke deaths occur in women. Finally, race is an important risk factor. African-Americans, Native Americans, and Alaskan Natives are at greater risk compared to people of other ethnicities.

Stroke: Emergency Treatment

For an ischemic stroke, emergency treatment focuses on medicine to restore blood flow. A clot-busting drug is highly effective at dissolving clots and minimizing long-term damage, but it must be as soon as possible, within three -- or much as 4.5 hours for some people -- of the initial stroke symptoms Hemorrhagic strokes are more difficult to manage. Treatment usually involves attempting to control high blood pressure, bleeding, and brain swelling

Stroke: Long-Term Damage

Whether a stroke causes long-term damage depends on its severity and how quickly treatment stabilizes the brain. The type of damage depends on where in the brain the stroke occurs. Common problems after a stroke include numbness and/or weakness in the arms or legs, difficulty walking, vision problems, trouble swallowing, and problems with speech and comprehension. These problems can be permanent, but many people regain most of their abilities

 

Source:WebMD