STROKE

Your brain is the master control center for your body. It directs most of what you do – your movements, emotions and ability to think, talk and learn. To do this, your brain needs a steady supply of oxygen and nutrient-rich blood. That’s why if you suffer a stroke – when blood flow to the brain is cut off – brain cells can die very quickly.

Stroke is a leading cause of death and disability in adults. According to the American Stroke Association, a stroke occurs every 40 seconds in the United States.

If you’ve had a stroke, your recovery will depend on a number of factors, including how badly your brain was damaged and how quickly you get medical care.

Some strokes are mild, while others can be severe. In the worst case scenario, a stroke can lead to paralysis (being unable to move parts of the body), loss of speech, or problems thinking, feeling or controlling emotions – even death.

The good news is that more people are surviving strokes than ever before thanks to advances in treatments and rehabilitation.

If you have survived a stroke, there are many things you can do to regain lost function. You can also prevent another stroke from happening by focusing on lowering your blood pressure and cholesterol, not smoking, and staying active.

If you have, or are at high risk for, heart disease or stroke, you need to know the warning signs. It could save your life.

Use this condition center to learn more about stroke, create a list of questions to ask your health care team, and more.

A stroke – sometimes called a “brain attack” – occurs when normal blood flow to the brain is cut off. When this happens, the brain isn’t getting the oxygen that it needs, and brain cells can die quickly.

There are two types of stroke: ischemic and hemorrhagic.

Ischemic stroke is the most common, and often stems from:

  • Clots within a blood vessel of the brain or neck that block or plug supply (thrombosis)
  • Clots that break off from another part of the body and go to the brain (embolism)
  • Narrowing of the blood vessels supplying the brain (stenosis)

Hemorrhagic stroke happens when a blood vessel in the brain bursts and bleeds into the brain.

Just like a heart attack can damage the heart, a stroke can injure the brain. The part of the brain that is damaged may not work or be able to control the body as it once did.

You may have heard of “mini-stroke,” also called transient ischemic attack (TIA). This occurs when less blood than usual makes it to the brain. It is short-lived and does not result in permanent damage. But it can be a warning sign of a more serious stroke.

Several factors make it more likely you will have a stroke:

  • High blood pressure is the strongest predictor of a stroke. Someone with high blood pressure has a much greater chance of stroke before age 80.
  • Older age: Although stroke can occur at any age, the risk doubles every decade between the ages of 55 and 85.
  • Race: Blacks and Hispanics are more prone to stroke.
  • Smoking can lead to blood clots and raise blood pressure.
  • Mini-strokes, or transient ischemic attacks (TIAs).
  • Physical inactivity or being obese.
  • Diabetes.
  • High cholesterol.

Stroke and heart disease share many risk factors. Over time, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, not getting enough exercise, and being overweight, can cause changes in the heart or blood vessels that can lead to stroke and other cardiac events.

Certain conditions, including atrial fibrillation (irregular heartbeat) and heart valve disorders can result in clots breaking loose and blocking blood supply to the brain.

Strokes strike quickly – typically without warning. That’s why it’s critical to know the signs of stroke and act fast.

You might experience sudden:

  • Numbness, tingling, weakness or loss of movement in your face, leg or arm, especially on one side
  • Confusion
  • Trouble speaking or understanding
  • Severe headache for unknown reasons
  • Vision changes in one or both eyes
  • Loss of balance and/or coordination
If you or a loved one are having symptoms of a stroke, don’t delay. Call 911 immediately.

To prevent brain damage and permanent disability, blood flow must be restored quickly. Every second counts. The faster you can get to the hospital, the sooner doctors can help restore blood flow to the brain. This usually is done by giving a medication (tissue plasminogen activator) to dissolve, or break up, the blood clot. The medicine needs to be given within four and a half hours from the start of symptoms.

Some patients may qualify for a procedure (mechanical thrombectomy) to manually remove the clot.

Other medicines can help prevent another stroke.

Recovery and Rehabilitation

Some strokes are mild, but others can lead to severe brain damage – even early death. How stroke affects someone will depend on where the stroke occurred and how quickly treatment is given, as well as factors including their age and overall health.

Stroke can lead to:

  • Paralysis (being unable to move parts of the body)
  • Problems with balance or weakness on one side
  • Loss of speech
  • Impaired judgment or behavior
  • Memory loss
  • Issues with bladder or bowel function
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Emotional disturbances

If you’ve survived a stroke, there are ways to regain lost function and relearn skills. Rehabilitation can help and may include a combination of physical, occupational and speech therapy. The goal is to give you the best possibly recovery.

If you are at risk for stroke – or have already had one – there are steps you can take to help prevent having one. Try to:

  • Lower your blood pressure if it is high and be sure to keep track of your number – aim for less than 130/80
  • Get tested for diabetes
  • Eat a healthy diet
  • Don’t smoke and avoid secondhand smoke
  • Stay active – 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise each week to promote good health
  • Get to and maintain a healthy weight
  • Keep up with your doctor’s visits and learn what your numbers mean, especially if your blood pressure is high
  • Always take your medications as directed

Remember: Know the warning signs of a stroke and be prepared to seek medical attention right away.

If You’ve Had a Past Stroke

Your health care team may recommend medications to help you prevent another stroke. These medications include blood thinners, such as aspirin or clopidogrel, to lower the chance of clots forming.

Also, your health care team might recommend you take medications to help lower your stroke risk. These could include medications to lower or control:

  • Cholesterol levels (for example, statins)
  • Blood pressure
  • Diabetes

If you’ve been diagnosed with stroke, there are several key questions that you should ask your cardiologist during your next visit. These questions will ensure that you and your doctor have discussed your major risk factors so that you can become or stay as healthy as possible.

  • What is a stroke?
  • What are the symptoms of a stroke?
  • What is a mini-stroke or transient ischemic attack (TIA)?
  • Does having a TIA increase my risk of a stroke?
  • Does having a stroke increase my risk of having a heart attack?
  • What are the risk factors for having a stroke?
  • How is a stroke diagnosed?
  • What are the treatment options for stroke?
  • If I’ve had a stroke, do I have an increased risk for another stroke?
  • When are blood thinners necessary? How is this decision determined?
  • What are the differences between blood thinning medications? How do I know which one is right for me?
  • What are the risks of blood thinning medications?
  • How can strokes be prevented?
  • How common are strokes?
  • Are strokes hereditary?

VISUAL AIDS

What is a stroke

What happens during Stroke

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