Stroke is the fourth leading cause of death in the US, and is a major cause of disability in adults. It is estimated that one stroke occurs every 40 seconds in America, and one out of four victims will die. It can happen to anyone at any age, but more women are affected than men, and older people are at greater risk. African-Americans are also twice as likely as Caucasians to suffer a stroke. However, the National Stroke Association reveals that four out of five strokes can be prevented, mainly by maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
What is a Stroke?
A stroke occurs when blood flow to the brain is interrupted, causing the death of brain cells. The brain is highly dependent on a constant supply of oxygen-rich blood from the circulation. When a blood clot, a sudden, severe narrowing of an artery or bleeding occurs in the brain, brain cells are deprived of oxygen and rapidly die within minutes. A stroke constitutes a medical emergency because permanent brain damage or death can occur. Here are some links that provide more information on strokes:
- Stroke 101: Fast Facts on Stroke (NSA)
- National Stroke Association: What is a Stroke?
- What is a Stroke? (NIH)
- Stroke Overview (Mayfield Clinic)
- Learn About Stroke (Irish Heart Foundation)
- Stroke – A Serious Event (NIH)
- Disorders and Diseases: Stroke (ASHA)
Signs and Symptoms of Stroke
It is important to recognize the signs and symptoms of a stroke because knowing these signs can save someone’s life, if not your own. Sometimes, there are no apparent symptoms if the stroke is mild, but the brain can still be damaged. In many cases, however, characteristic symptoms occur. The U.S. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) describes the five typical signs and symptoms of a stroke, which include sudden one-sided weakness or numbness of the face, arm or leg, with partial or complete loss of ability to move and/or feel; sudden confusion, trouble speaking, drooling, and difficulty in understanding; sudden vision changes; sudden unexplained headache that is severe; sudden dizziness, loss of balance, difficulty walking, and loss of consciousness.
A person who is suspected of having a stroke should be treated immediately, so it is important to call 911 or emergency medical services to reduce his/her risk of permanent brain damage or death.
For people who are experiencing mild symptoms, the likelihood of stroke may be determined by asking them to perform simple commands according to the Cincinnati Prehospital Stroke Scale (CPSS). These include smiling (to see if the face moves symmetrically); raising both arms (to look for weakness on one side of their body); and asking the person to speak a simple sentence to gauge their ability to speak. Inability to perform these task signals a stroke, and 911 should be called immediately.
- Understanding Stroke — Symptoms (WebMD)
- Stroke Signs & Symptoms (CDC)
- Stroke Signs and Symptoms (UCSF)
- Signs of a Stroke (Womens Health)
- What are the Warning Signs of a Stroke? (MedicineNet)
- Hemorrhagic Stroke Symptoms (NY Times)
- Stroke Overview Signs and Symptoms (Baptist Health)
- What are the Most Common Symptoms of Stroke? (NY Presbyterian)
What Causes a Stroke?
There are two main causes of strokes. The most common cause is a blockage in an artery supplying blood to the brain. This is called an ischemic stroke, which is often associated with a tiny blood clot that has travelled from a larger artery (usually from the heart) to a smaller artery in the brain. This condition may also be the result of a buildup of fatty material (plaque) along the inner walls of arteries, inflammation, or usage of illegal drugs such as cocaine or amphetamines.
The other possible cause of stroke is bleeding in the brain, which may be due to a weakened blood vessel that begins to leak or suddenly erupts. These are hemorrhagic strokes leading to brain (cerebral) hemorrhage, which can result from hypertension, a head injury, a ruptured aneurysm, or an abnormal artery and vein abnormally joined known as an arteriovenous malformation. Death occurs in about 40 per cent of cases.
- Stroke: Causes (Mayo Clinic)
- Stroke Causes, Incidence, and Risks Factors (UMMC)
- What Causes a Stroke? (Cirrie)
- What is a Stroke and What Causes It? (Patient.co.uk)
- Causes of Stroke (NHS)
Most people can avoid having a stroke by modifying their lifestyle habits. This involves changing behaviors that increase their risk of developing a stroke. Among these changes are losing weight, eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, reducing alcohol consumption, and quitting smoking. They must also treat and control existing medical conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and high cholesterol, which are risk factors for having a stroke. Surgical treatment for blocked arteries or aneurysms may also be required. The use of medications, such as coumadin and aspirin to make the blood thinner and prevent the formation of blood clots, may be recommended for people who are at risk of ischemic stroke.
- Preventing Stroke (UCSC)
- Understanding Brain Attack: A Closer Look at Stroke (NetWellness)
- What is Stroke, Including Six Tips to Reduce Your Risk (NSA)
- How to Prevent a Stroke (UK Stroke Association)
- Nine Ways to Prevent a Stroke (Prevention/ABCNews)
- Simple Ways to Prevent Stroke (FoxNews)
- Stroke Prevention: Five Ways to Prevent a Brain Attack (US News)
The treatment of stroke consists of medical and non-medical management to help a patient recover his/her optimal function and improve the quality of life. Damage to brain cells may lead to partial disability, which may be improved with rehabilitation. Depending on the area of the brain affected, one may experience difficulty in speech, movement, and/or coordination.
Therapy often involves seeking out assistance from a stroke rehabilitation program, which helps stroke survivors deal with daily activities and reduce their dependence on others’ assistance. This includes being able to eat, bathe, and dress by themselves. Joining support groups may also help stroke survivors to recover not only from their physical condition, but also assist with their emotional, mental, and social challenges. The most important aspect of stroke management is to prevent another stroke from occurring by monitoring blood pressure, controlling blood sugar levels, reducing sodium intake, and maintaining a healthy lifestyle.