When the blood supply to the brain becomes blocked by a clot or tear in a blood vessel, it causes a stroke.
When this occurs, specific brain cells are affected and die immediately. Time is of the essence when responding to stroke symptoms. Learning to act quickly can not only save a life, it can prevent brain damage or other major complications.
If you or someone you know is experiencing stroke symptoms, call 911.
Two types of strokes
Ischemic stroke, the most common stype of stroke, occurs when fatty deposits or blood clots narrow or block the blood vessels leading to the brain. Fatty deposits, also called atherosclerosis, is the main cause of ischemic stroke.
Hemorrhagic stroke (intracranial) occurs when weakened blood vessels tear or an aneurysm ruptures (hemorrhages), flooding the surrounding brain tissue with blood and interferes with brain function. Hemorrhagic strokes account for less than 20% of all strokes.
Can you feel a stroke coming?
When a stroke appears, the symptoms are usually sudden.
The letters in “B.E.F.A.S.T.” help you spot stroke signs, and know when to call 911.
B – Balance: Sudden difficulty standing or walking.
E – Eyes: Sudden loss of vision, or double vision.
F – Face: Drooping or uneven smile.
A – Arm weakness.
S – Speech: Difficulty speaking, slurred or jumbled speech.
T – Time to call 911 if you observe any symptoms.
Reproduced with permission from Intermountain Healthcare. © 2011 Intermountain Healthcare. All rights reserved.
Risk factors for stroke
There are many risk factors for stroke, but the most common are:
- Age (over 65).
- Arrhythmia or AFIB.
- Drinking more than 2 alcoholic beverages per day.
- Family history of stroke.
- High blood pressure.
- High cholesterol.
- Lack of exercise.
- Narrowed arteries.
- Poor diet.
- Previous stroke or transient ischemic attack (TIA).
The treatment for stroke is dependent on the type of stroke that occurred.
For a hemorrhagic stroke, treatment focuses on controlling the bleeding and reducing the pressure on your brain from the excess fluid by specific emergency measures such as:
- Coiling (endovascular embolization)
- Surgical AVM removal
- Surgical clipping, or stereotactic radiosurgery.
Once bleeding is under control, the patient is placed on medications to treat high blood pressure and/or high cholesterol to prevent future strokes.
For an ischemic stroke, doctors must quickly restore blood flow to the brain where the blockage occurred.
Doctors do this by injecting medicine to dissolve blood clots, and by performing emergency endovascular procedures to surgically remove blood clots and restore blood flow to the brain.
Many of these patients will be put on an aspirin treatment plan as well as medicines to control their high blood pressure and/or high cholesterol.
Stroke recovery and prevention
Stroke recovery is variable
Depending on the damage from the stroke, everyone’s recovery will look different. Whether it’s weeks, months or years, some fully recover, while others may have lifelong disabilities.
Because one in four strokes each year are recurrent, it is very important to treat the causes of stroke (things like atrial fibrillation, diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol).
In order to have a stronger recovery and to help prevent a reccurence, you should focus on adopting a healthier lifestyle.
Steps to a healthier lifestyle
Eighty percent of strokes are preventable by adopting a healthy lifestyle. This includes:
- Checking your cholesterol.
- Controlling your blood pressure.
- Controlling diabetes.
- Daily exercise.
- Healthy diet.
- Healthy weight.
- Limiting alcohol intake.
- No smoking.
- Treating heart disease.
Frequently asked questions (FAQs) about stroke
The first three days following a stroke, called the hyper acute care phase, are incredibly critical to the recovery and survival rate of the patient.
The stroke patient is stabilized, given a brain scan to determine what kind of stroke appeared, and if needed, surgery is performed.
During this time, it is determined how much damage to the brain has occurred and whether there are lifelong disabilities. The patient is continually monitored for possible recurrent strokes, and a rehabilitation plan is put into place. The length of a hospital stay after a stroke is usually five to seven days.
A silent stroke, or silent cerebral infarction, is when there is a blockage in part of the brain that may not control any vital functions, like talking or walking. Therefore, the stroke doesn’t cause any noticeable symptoms and the stroke remains undetected. Silent strokes are typically only detected when a patient has an MRI or CT scan for another condition.
A TIA, also called a “mini-stroke,” is a brief period of stroke symptoms. A TIA (which stands for “transient ischemic attack”) and an ischemic stroke have the same signs and symptoms, except that TIA symptoms often go away within an hour (but can last longer).
- A TIA is a brief lack of blood flow to a part of your brain.
- TIAs and stroke have similar causes.
- Having a TIA puts you at immediate high risk of having a more severe stroke.
Both are medical emergencies. Call 911 immediately.
Finding the cause of your TIA and controlling your risk factors will help prevent a full-blown stroke that could cause lasting damage.
Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). About Stroke (https://www.cdc.gov/stroke/about.htm)
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI). Stroke – What Is a Stroke? (https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/stroke)
MedlinePlus: National Library of Medicine. Stroke (https://medlineplus.gov/stroke.html)
American Heart Association (AHA). About Stroke (https://www.stroke.org/en/about-stroke)