A stroke is a life-threatening condition that occurs when the blood vessel that carries nutrients and oxygen to the brain is blocked by a clot or ruptures. The blockage prevents that part of the brain from getting the oxygen and nutrients it needs, causing brain cells to become damaged and die within minutes. It is one of the leading causes of death as well as one of the main causes of disability in many countries around the world. A Stroke falls into three main types, depending on what caused it:
- Ischemic stroke is the most common type of stroke, which happens when the arteries to your brain are narrowed or blocked. The blockage reduces the blood flow to your brain. This type of stroke is further broken down into two categories: thrombotic stroke and embolic stroke. A thrombotic stroke happens when a blood clot (thrombus), or build-ups of plaque, forms in the arteries that supposed to supply blood to your brain. With an embolic stroke, a blood clot or other debris forms in other areas that are not your brain, usually in your heart. The blood clot and debris are swept through your bloodstream and clog the narrower arteries of your brain.
- Hemorrhagic stroke occurs when a weakened blood vessel in your brain ruptures. This type of stroke usually results from medical conditions that affect your blood vessels, such as uncontrolled hypertension, aneurysms, and overtreatment with anticoagulants or blood thinners. Arteriovenous malformations (AVMs) can also cause hemorrhagic stroke. Hemorrhagic stroke has two different types, including intracerebral hemorrhage and subarachnoid hemorrhage.
- Transient ischemic attacks (TIAs) is known as a mini-stroke. This type of stroke happens when the blood flow to your brain is temporarily interrupted. TIAs can last as short as five minutes and just like ischemic stroke, it is caused by a blood clot or debris that blocks your blood flow. However, TIAs do not result in permanent damage and have no lasting symptoms. Even when the symptoms of TIAs seem to clear up, you still need to seek emergency care because the condition puts you at a greater risk of other types of stroke.
Although the main types of strokes are caused by different things. You are more likely to experience a stroke if you have any of the following risk factors, including:
- Physically inactive lifestyle
- Being obese or overweight
- A tendency to binge drinking or use illicit drugs, such as methamphetamines and cocaine
- Smoking cigarettes or being exposed to second-hand smoke
- High level of cholesterol
- High blood pressure (higher than 120/80 mm Hg
- Abnormal heart rhythm, heart defects, heart infection, hair failure, or other cardiovascular diseases
- A personal or family history of heart attack, stroke, or TIAs.
There are also other risk factors of a stroke, which does not come from your lifestyle or medical history. These include:
- Sex. Men are at a greater risk of stroke than women. However, women tend to have a stroke when they are older and are more likely to die from stroke than men.
- Race and ethnicity. African-Americans, American Indians, and Alaska Natives are more likely to have a stroke than other races and ethnicities.
- Age. Older people, especially those aged 55 or older are more at risk than younger people.
- Hormones. Increased estrogen levels from pregnancy and the use of birth control pills put you at a higher risk of a stroke.
A stroke is a medical emergency that needs prompt treatment. The sooner it gets treated, the less damage and complications are likely to happen. A Stroke can result in long-term medical problems. The aftermath of a stroke can make a person experience temporary or permanent disabilities. If you or someone you know is having a stroke, it is important to call the emergency number immediately. Watch for the following symptoms and signs so you can act quickly and get the earliest treatment.
- A severe headache, possibly accompanied by altered consciousness, vomiting, and dizziness.
- Confusion, including trouble with speaking and understanding. Your speech may be slurred or you may not be able to talk at all. Also, you may find it difficult to understand what other people are saying to you.
- Numbness or paralysis of your face, arm, or leg, usually on one side of your body. You may not be able to lift both of your arms because of numbness in one arm. You also may not be able to smile or your eye and mouth may have dropped.
- Vision problems in one or both eyes. Your vision may suddenly become blurred or blackened or you may even see double.
- Walking trouble because you may lose balance and coordination. You may also experience dizziness and stumble.
Additionally, you may also experience pain in your hands and feet that gets worse when you move, problems with your bladder or bowel control, depression, and trouble expressing and controlling problems. These symptoms have a range of severity. The easiest way to identify stroke is by remembering the word “FAST”:
- Face. Try to smile, does one side of your face droop?
- Arms. Try to raise both of your arms, does one of your arm drift downward?
- Speech. Try to repeat a simple phrase, is your speech strange and slurred?
- Time. If you notice any of the signs, call your local emergency number immediately and do not wait to see if the signs stop.
The treatments for stroke can be different depending on the type of stroke you have, what caused it, and which part of the brain was affected. Normally, strokes are treated with medications, including medicines to reduce your cholesterol levels, reduce your blood pressure, and dissolve blood clots. However, in some cases, your doctor may need to perform a procedure to remove blood clots. If your stroke is caused by brain swelling, surgery may be required.
There is only a small number of stroke survivors who make an almost-complete recovery, others are left with long-term disabilities. An extended period of rehabilitation is needed for some people before they can recover. However, some people may never fully recover and need ongoing support after a stroke. Rehabilitation from a stroke needs to start as soon as possible. Rehabilitation for stroke mainly focuses on speech therapy, cognitive therapy, physical therapy, and relearning sensory skills.
Prevention is always better than treatments. Fortunately, preventing a stroke is possible and it is not hard, you can do it by living a healthy lifestyle, such as following a healthy diet, maintaining a healthy weight, having regular exercise, not smoking, consuming alcohol in moderation, and getting regular medical checkups. If you have a medical condition that puts you at a higher risk of stroke, you need to manage the condition effectively. For instance, take the prescribed medication to keep your blood pressure under control and treat your obstructive sleep apnea.