Is a Stroke?
A stroke is a sudden
partial loss of brain function usually caused by a clot that stops the
flow of blood to an area of the brain. Without oxygen and important nutrients,
the affected brain cells are either damaged or die within a few minutes.
While cell damage
can be repaired and the lost function regained, the death of brain cells
is permanent. Most strokes are caused by a blood clot or narrowing of
a blood vessel (artery) leading to the brain. Other strokes are caused
by a hemorrhage (bleeding) from an artery. There are three major types
are caused by fatty deposits (plaques) that have built up in the arteries
carrying blood to the brain. This slows the blood flow until a blood clot
completely blocks the artery and the flow of oxygen and nutrients to the
An embolic stroke
is caused by a blood clot formed in another part of the body that breaks
loose, travels through the bloodstream, and blocks an artery carrying
oxygen and nutrients to the brain. When traveling through the body the
blood clot is called an embolus.
A hemorrhagic stroke
is caused when an artery supplying blood bleeds into the brain. The broken
blood vessel prevents needed oxygen and nutrients from reaching the brain
cells. One type of hemorrhagic stroke is caused when an artery that has
weakened over time bulges (called an aneurysm) and suddenly breaks.
Diagnosis and Treatment
A stroke requires
immediate medical care. Research shows that treatment during the first
hours after symptoms appear can be important for the best possible recovery.
An emergency doctor or neurologist (a doctor who diagnoses and treats
disorders of the brain and nervous system) will provide emergency treatment.
Then a family doctor, internist, or geriatrician can step in and provide
longer term care.
Doctors make an early
diagnosis by looking at symptoms, reviewing the patientís medical history,
and performing tests such as a computerized tomography scan--a 3-dimensional
x-ray technique to
take pictures of the brain.
What You Can Do
to Prevent a Stroke
A stroke was once
viewed as a single damaging attack, but we now know it develops over many
years. The risk factors or conditions that may lead to stroke include
high blood pressure, smoking, heart disease, and diabetes. The risk of
stroke increases with age and is higher in African Americans and Hispanics
than in whites.
You can reduce your
stroke risk by taking the following steps:
- Control your blood
pressure. Have your blood pressure checked often, and, if it is high,
follow your doctorís advice on how to lower it. Treating high blood
pressure reduces the risk for both stroke and heart disease.
- Stop smoking. Cigarette
smoking is linked to increased risk for stroke. Research shows that
the risk of stroke for people who have quit smoking for 2-5 years is
lower than for smokers.
Researchers think that exercise may make the heart stronger and improve
circulation. It also helps control weight. Being overweight increases
the chance of high blood pressure, atherosclerosis, heart disease, and
adult-onset (type II) diabetes.
like brisk walking, cycling, swimming, and yard work lower the risk of
both stroke and heart disease. Talk with your doctor before starting an
- Eat a healthy diet.
Choose, prepare, and eat foods low in fats, saturated fatty acids, and
cholesterol. Eat a variety of fruits and vegetables.
- Control diabetes.
If untreated, diabetes can damage the blood vessels throughout the body
and lead to atherosclerosis.
- Promptly report
warning signs or symptoms to your doctor. The warning signs for stroke
are a sudden, unexplained tingling and/or numbness on one side of the
body, a sudden severe headache, blurred vision, difficulty talking,
stumbling and/or sudden clumsiness. Sometimes a mini-stroke, lasting
only a few moments and called a transient ischemic attack (TIA), comes
before a stroke.
begin as soon as possible after the patient is stable. It often continues
after the patient has gone home. Stroke rehabilitation includes many kinds
of therapies: physical therapy to strengthen muscles and improve balance
and coordination; speech and language therapy; and occupational therapy
to improve eye-hand coordination and skills needed for tasks such as bathing
and cooking. A team of health care experts (physicians, physical and occupational
therapists, nurses, social workers, and speech and language specialists)
coordinates activities for the patient and family.
varies from person to person. For some, recovery is completed within weeks
following a stroke; for others, it may take many months or years.
Where to Get Help
of Neurological Disorders and Stroke
P.O. Box 5801
Bethesda, MD 20824
National High Blood
Pressure Education Program
P.O. Box 30105 Bethesda, MD 20824
The National Stroke
96 Inverness Drive East
Englewood, CO 80112-5112
American Heart Association
7272 Greenville Avenue
Dallas, TX 75231