Life happens and most of us don’t have the time to be thinking about strokes. While you certainly don’t need to live a life of worry, it’s beneficial to know a thing or two or three about strokes. Every four minutes, someone in the U.S. dies from a stroke. But, what is a stroke anyway? Can it be prevented? How do people recover from one? We have the answers to these questions and more.
Defining a stroke
Did you know there are two distinct types of strokes? The first class is known as ischemic stroke — which accounts for 87 percent of strokes. The second type is called hemorrhagic stroke.
With ischemic strokes, a blood vessel in the brain becomes clogged. This happens when fatty deposits or plaque form directly in the brain vessel or when a buildup of plaque lining another artery or vessel in the body, usually the heart, breaks free and travels up to the brain, becoming lodged in one of the brain’s blood vessels. Ultimately, you can think of a stroke as a heart attack for the brain.
Hemorrhagic stroke is the result of a weakened blood vessel that ruptures and bleeds into the brain. The underlying source of this type of stroke is an aneurysm or a cluster of abnormal blood vessels (arteriovenous malformations).
A potential warning sign of stroke is having a transient ischemic attack (TIA) or “mini stroke.” A TIA has similar symptoms as a stroke (see below), but doesn’t last as long or permanently damage the brain. Consider TIAs an emergency. Up to 40 percent of all people who have experienced a TIA will go on to have an actual stroke.
A full-blown stroke happens without warning and includes the following symptoms:
- Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body
- Confusion, trouble speaking or understanding
- Trouble seeing in one or both eyes
- Difficulty walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination
- Severe headache with no known cause
Course of action
If you or someone you encounter has these signs of a stroke, immediate emergency care is a must. Like any emergency situation, the clock is ticking. The longer you wait to seek treatment, the more damage to your brain occurs. Call 9-1-1 immediately.
Since the majority of strokes are a form of heart disease, they are largely preventable. The principles of healthy, balanced living are tried and true ways to control blood pressure and cholesterol and keep plaque out of your arteries. That’s why it’s important to get frequent exercise, eat a nutritious diet and maintain a reasonable weight. Of course, none of us are perfect and the natural aging process makes us more likely to develop some blockage over time.
Herein lies one of the great advantages of advanced medical technology. Computed tomography (CT) can take thousands of detailed pictures of the inside of a person’s arteries. Specifically, electron-beam CT X-ray scans show if calcium deposits are present in arteries — a telltale sign of blockage. CT can also reveal if your arteries show the classic bulges or abnormalities of an aneurysm.
The best part? This CT is completely painless. You lie on a table and a hollow, doughnut-looking machine circulates around you. Based on your results, we can help you seek appropriate treatment to clear blockage or correct an aneurysm.
No one plans to have a stroke, but now you’ll know a little better what to do if you or a loved one exhibit signs of one. Plus, by taking care of your body and being screened, you may be able to protect yourself from a stroke.
Sources: CDC.gov, Heart.org, NHLBI.NIH.gov, NINDS.NIH.gov, StrokeAssociation.org