Stroke, also called brain attack, occurs when blood flow to the brain is disrupted. This disruption in blood flow occurs when either a blood clot blocks one of the vital blood vessels in the brain (ischemic stroke) or when a blood vessel in the brain bursts, spilling blood into surrounding tissues (hemorrhagic stroke).
The blood supply to the brain is very important. The brain needs a constant supply of the oxygen and nutrients carried by the blood in order to function, and even a brief interruption in blood supply can cause major problems. After only a few minutes without blood or oxygen, brain cells begin to die, and when this happens, a stroke results. Due to both the physical and chemical changes that occur in the brain with stroke, damage can continue to occur for several days.
When brain cells die, that particular area of the brain loses function. Because different areas of the brain control different bodily functions, this may lead to impairments involving movement, speech, thinking and memory, bowel and bladder control, eating, emotional control and other vital body functions. The specific abilities affected and likelihood of recovery depend on the size and location of the stroke. A small stroke may result in only minor problems such as weakness in an arm or leg. Larger strokes may cause paralysis (inability to move part of the body), loss of speech or even death.
A Stroke of Grace, a nonprofit organization, offers virtual support groups twice a month along with education and awareness for stroke prevention.
Strokes fall into several major categories based on whether the disrupted blood supply is caused by a blocked blood vessel or a hemorrhage. Since each type of stroke has a different type of treatment, it is very important for the physician to determine the cause of the stroke, as well as the location, as quickly as possible.
Ischemic strokes occur when a blood vessel within the brain tissue is clogged, typically by a blood clot (also called a cerebral embolism or thrombus). Over 80 percent of all strokes are ischemic.
Ischemic strokes are divided into two groups:
Hemorrhagic strokes occur when a blood vessel that supplies the brain ruptures and bleeds into surrounding brain tissue. When an artery bleeds into the brain, the affected brain cells and tissues do not receive necessary oxygen and nutrients. In addition, pressure builds up in surrounding tissues, and irritation and swelling occur. About 20 percent of strokes are caused by hemorrhage.
Hemorrhagic strokes are divided into two main categories:
Transient ischemic attacks (TIAs) are minor or warning strokes that may indicate the possibility of a major ischemic stroke to come. About one-third of all strokes are preceded by one or more of these “mini-strokes” which can occur days, weeks or even months before. TIAs are caused by a temporary disruption in the brain’s blood supply. Although TIAs usually clear up naturally and are short lived, a TIA should be taken very seriously, and medical attention should be sought immediately.
Following a TIA, the body soon returns to normal, so it is easy to ignore it and believe that the problem has disappeared. This is extremely dangerous, however, because the underlying problem that caused the TIA continues to exist; the TIA is often an early warning sign of a more serious and debilitating stroke in the future.
The most common risk factors for stroke are listed below. They include some conditions that can be changed by modifying your lifestyle or seeking medical treatment, as well as conditions that cannot be changed, such as hereditary factors.
Risk factors for stroke that can be changed, treated or medically managed include:
Risk factors for stroke that cannot be changed include:
Other risk factors of stroke to consider include:
Stroke warning signs include:
Not all of these warning signs occur with every stroke, so if you experience any combination of these symptoms, seek help immediately. When symptoms of a stroke occur and then resolve on their own in a short period of time, an individual may have experienced a transient ischemic attack (TIA). Although TIAs usually go away within minutes, they should be taken very seriously because they are major warning signs of an impending stroke to come; one out of every 10 major stroke victims first experiences a warning TIA. The lag between a TIA and a major stroke may be hours, days or even months. However, one-fifth of all strokes that follow a TIA occur within the month and half occur within the same year.
According to the National Stroke Association, it is important to learn the three R’s of stroke:
Stroke is an emergency and should be treated as such. The greatest chance for recovery from stroke occurs when emergency treatment is started immediately. The sooner a brain attack victim seeks medical attention, the better. New and emerging therapies are showing promise, but all must be started in the first few hours following the onset of symptoms.
If you or someone you know should experience stroke symptoms, call 911 immediately — do not wait!
It’s part of Norton Neuroscience Institute’s goal to care for the whole person, not just the condition.
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