Neurology

Stroke: What is it and Can it be Prevented?

Understanding Stroke

A stroke is dangerous and can lead to lasting brain injury or death. Their symptoms can be subtle and difficult to notice. Sometimes the affected individual isn’t even aware that they just experienced one!

Stroke is the 4th leading cause of death in the US. With the right treatment, however, they are generally preventable.

A cerebrovascular accident, more commonly known as stroke, is a medical emergency where a blood vessel becomes blocked or a blood vessel in the brain erupts. Without sufficient oxygen and blood flow, brain cells begin to die within minutes. Permanent damage or even death may follow if not treated promptly.

There are two main types:

Hemorrhagic

brainbloodcirculationstrokearteriesm-FMCA hemorrhagic stroke occurs when a blood vessel bursts, whether because of an aneurism or a weak blood vessel leaking. The two most common types are intracerebral and subarachnoid.

  • Intracerebral Hemorrhage occurs when a blood vessel bursts and blood flows into brain tissue. This kills brain cells, and the affected part of the brain may stop working as normal.
  • Subarachnoid Hemorrhage occurs in the subarachnoid space, which is the small area between the brain and the tissue which covers the brain.

Ischemic

An ischemic stroke can occur in any blood vessel which carries blood to the brain. These types of strokes occur when a blood clot blocks blood flow. There are two main types – thrombotic and embolic.

  • A thrombotic stroke occurs when a blood vessel – whether large or small – becomes blocked by a blood clot and blood is unable to reach the brain.
  • Embolic stroke occurs when part of an existing blood clot or plaque fragment inside the body dislodges and travels to the brain. The fragment lodges inside a smaller blood vessel in the brain and blocks blood flow, causing a stroke.

Identifying a Stroke

The symptoms of stroke usually occur suddenly and without warning. If you believe you or a loved one has experienced stroke, remember the acronym ‘FAST’ to identify telltale warning signs.

Face: Ask the person to smile, and watch to see if their smile droops on one side.

Arms: Have the person lift both arms into the air. Look to see if one drifts or sags towards the floor.

Speech: This symptom can manifest itself in slurred speech, difficulty understanding conversation, or difficulty repeating a phrase.

Time: If the individual demonstrates one or more of the above symptoms, you’ll need to contact 9-1-1 immediately.

Other Symptoms Include:

  • Confusion or difficulty understanding conversation
  • Sudden blurry vision and/or difficulty seeing in one or both eyes
  • Numbness or weakness which occurs suddenly, especially if this happens on one side of the body
  • Difficulty with sense of balance, and may suddenly have trouble walking
  • Sudden severe headache without an apparent cause

A Transient Ischemic Attack, more commonly called a ‘ministroke’, is another possible warning sign of an upcoming stroke. A TIA usually precedes a stroke; however, the amount of time between the two is unpredictable.

A TIA is very similar to stroke in that blood flow to the brain is blocked. The main difference is that a ‘ministroke’ is temporary and does not usually cause damage to brain cells.

Although TIA is temporary, it is an emergency and should be treated the same way – by calling 911. The brain requires a constant supply of blood and oxygen to maintain proper, healthy function. Even a short amount of time without blood flow can lead to severe damage or death.

Prevention

It’s estimated that 80% of strokes are preventable. One of the most important things to remember is that stroke can occur to people of any age.

The best way to prevent a stroke from occurring is to reduce lifestyle risk factors. High blood pressure, circulation problems, high cholesterol, and diabetes are all controllable medical conditions which can be affected by lifestyle choices.

Some of the best ways to prevent stroke include:

  • Practice a healthy diet
  • Moderate alcohol consumption
  • Consider smoking cessation
  • Change a sedentary lifestyle to an active one

Some people are at a higher risk due to natural risk factors which they cannot reduce.

Uncontrollable risk factors include:

  • Gender: Women are more likely than men to have a stroke.
  • Family history: If someone in your family has had a stroke, you are more likely to have one.
  • Age: While a stroke can happen at any age, the chance increases as a person ages.
  • Ethnicity: Asians, African Americans, Hispanics, and Pacific Islanders all have higher chances of having a stroke.
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