Understanding Stroke: A guide


The medical condition, called stroke is a medical emergency and a leading cause of death in the U.S.  Canada and many parts of the world. It happens when a blood vessel in the brain bursts or, more often, when a blockage develops. When it is not treated, cells in the brain quickly begin to die. The result can be serious disability or death. If you have a friend or a family member having stroke symptoms, seek emergency medical attention without delay.


Symptoms of Stroke
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 an unknown cause.
  • Sudden problems with dizziness, walking, or balance.
  • Sudden confusion, difficulty speaking or understanding others.

Contact your country’s emergency lines immediately if you notice any of these symptoms.


Stroke Test: Talk, Wave, Smile
The F.A.S.T. test helps spot its symptoms. It stands for:

Face. Ask for a smile. Does one side droop?

Arms. When raised, does one side drift down?

Speech. Can the person repeat a simple sentence? Does he or she have trouble or slur words?

Time. Time is critical. Call your country’s emergency numbers immediately if any symptoms are present.


Stroke: Time = Brain Damage
Every second is important when seeking treatment. When starved of oxygen, brain cells begin to die 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 would not work properly. It is the reason stroke is a top cause of long-term disability.


Diagnosing the condition
If someone with symptoms arrives in the Emergency Room, the first step is to determine which type of stroke is occurring. There are two main types and they are not treated the same way. A CT scan can help doctors determine whether the symptoms are coming from a blocked blood vessel or a bleeding vessel. Additional tests may also be used to find the location of a blood clot or bleeding within the brain.

Ischemic Type
The most common type 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 Type
this is 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 one. 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 its risk


The 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. These include:

  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Diabetes
  • Obesity

Taking steps to control these conditions may reduce your risk.


Risk Factors: Behaviors
Certain behaviors also increase the risk:

  • Smoking
  • Getting too little exercise
  • Heavy use of alcohol


Risk Factors: Diet
A poor diet may increase its risk in a few significant ways. A diet high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and fish may help lower the risk.


Risk Factors You Can’t Control

A few 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, your race is an important risk factor. African-Americans, Native Americans, and Alaskan Natives are at greater risk compared to people of other ethnicities.


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 it happened to someone 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.


Prevention: Lifestyle

People who have had a stroke or TIA can take steps to prevent a recurrence:

  • Quit smoking.
  • Exercise and maintain a healthy weight.
  • Limit alcohol and salt intake.
  • Eat a healthier diet with more veggies, fish, and whole grains.


Prevention: Medications

People with a high, doctors often recommend medications to lower this risk. Anti-platelet drugs, including aspirin, keep platelets in the blood from sticking together and forming clots. Anti-clotting drugs, such as warfarin, may be needed to help ward off stroke in some patients. Conclusively, if you have high blood pressure, your doctor will prescribe medication to lower it.

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