Danger level: High
What is it?
A stroke happens when your brain stops functioning normally due to problems with its blood supply.
You should also know the term Transient ischemic attack (TIA) – this is the same as stroke, but the symptoms here last for less than 24 hours.
Who gets it?
In the United States, more than 700,00 people a year have a stroke for the first time (out of those, 20% will die within the first year after the stroke).
Men tend to have more strokes than women. Women also respond better to treatment.
When it comes to age, most cases of stroke happen in older age – after 55.
There are certain risk factors. Having those can increase your risk of having a stroke:
- A family history of stroke, heart attack or TIA
- Being age 55 or older
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- Smoking cigarettes
- Being fat – You’re at risk if you have a BMI of 30 or higher
- Previous stroke or TIA
- Use of birth control pills or other hormone therapy
What causes it?
In order to understand what strokes are all about you need to understand that our brain, like any other organ in the body, needs oxygen to function. This oxygen is delivered to it by the blood, through blood vessels.
The brain is supplied by many blood vessels. Photo by brain_blogger
There are two main types of stroke:
One is an ischemic stroke, which accounts for about 80% of all strokes. In this case, blood flow through an artery that leads to the brain is partially or completely blocked. If the artery remains blocked for more than a few minutes, the brain can become damaged and brain cells in that area start to die.
The artery here is blocked due to one of two reasons: A thrombus, which is a blood clot that blocks the artery (like in heart attacks). The other possible reason is an embolus, in which case a blood clot develops elsewhere in the body (usually the heart) and travels to the brain. One common reason for this type is an irregular heart rhythm, called atrial fibrillation.
The other type of stroke is a hemorrhagic stroke. This occurs when blood vessels in the brain leak or rupture, causing bleeding in or around the brain. The damage to the brain here is caused because the blood accumulates inside the skull, pressing the brain. Also the blood itself irritates the brain.
This video sums it up:
How does it feel?
There are some general symptoms that happen during a stroke. Knowing how to recognize them may save your life:
- Sudden numbness, paralysis, or weakness in your face, arm, or leg, especially on only one side of your body.
- New problems with walking or balance – This may include stumbling or having sudden dizziness, loss of balance or loss of coordination.
- Sudden vision changes: This includes blurred, doubled, or decreased vision.
- Drooling or slurred speech.
- New problems speaking or understanding simple statements, or feeling confused.
- A sudden, severe headache that is different from past headaches.
One method of telling if someone is having a stroke is the F.A.S.T method:
F – Face -Ask the person to smile. Does one side of the face droop?
A – Arms – Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?
S – Speech – Ask the person to repeat a simple sentence. Does the speech sound slurred or strange?
T – Time – Time is of the essence in stroke treatment. The sooner treatment begins, the better the chances are for recovery.
How is it discovered?
As mentioned above, time is of the essence when it comes to strokes. If a diagnosis is made within 3 hours, your chances of recovery are higher.
The first thing a doctor will want to know is whether your stroke is ischemic or hemorrhagic – This is important since the drugs used to treat an ischemic stroke may kill you in a hemorrhagic stroke.
One way to find out is a CT scan or an MRI, both are types of x-ray imaging of the brain that shows whether there’s bleeding or not, and where in the brain the stroke occurred.
A hemorrhagic stroke, as seen in a CT scan. The white stuff in the middle is blood.
Other tests here include echocardiography (which is an ultrasound of the heart, which can discover if an embolus travelled from your heart to your brain), an electrocardiogram (EKG), an ultrasound of your neck (to see if blood vessels there, which lead to the brain, are blocked), blood tests and others.
How is it treated?
The treatment is different for ischemic and hemorrhagic strokes:
Here drugs are given which dissolve the clot blocking the artery. These drugs should be given within 3 hours of the start of the stroke.
Surgery may be used here, in order to remove the blood building up inside the brain and to lower pressure inside the head. Not everyone with a hemorrhagic stoke needs surgery, though. Sometimes medicines are given to control blood pressure, brain swelling and other important factors.
What happens after treatment?
The results of a stroke depend not only on how fast it was treated, but also on the size and location of the stroke in the brain. Some people are left paralyzed, with speech problems, movement problems or with other disabilities.
The bottom line – How do I avoid it?
The best way to prevent a stroke is to know if you have any of the risk factors above and to treat them:
- Control high blood pressure – Consult your doctor about an appropriate treatment.
- Lower your cholesterol – This is can be done by eating less foods containing saturated fats. If your blood fats are high, you may also need to take medications to lower them.
- Quit smoking
- Control your diabetes – If you have it.
- Maintain a healthy weight – You may start with our article about using the Internet to lose weight.
- Exercise regularly