What Is a Stroke?
A stroke occurs when blood supply to the brain is interrupted or reduced, preventing brain tissue from getting oxygen and nutrients. Brain cells begin to die within minutes.
Stroke kills about 140,000 Americans each year and is the fifth leading cause of death. Someone experiences a stroke every 40 seconds, and every four minutes, someone dies of stroke.
Symptoms of a stroke:
- Sudden numbness or weakness in the face, arm, or leg, typically on one side of the body
- Sudden confusion, trouble talking, or difficulty understanding what others are saying
- Sudden trouble seeing in either one or both eyes
- Sudden trouble walking, with dizziness, loss of balance, or lack of coordination or control
- Sudden severe headache
If you or someone you know is showing these symptoms, call 9-1-1 immediately.
Acting F.A.S.T. Can Help with Recovery
Stroke treatments can only work if the stroke is identified and diagnosed within three hours of symptoms’ onset, therefore, it is imperative to get a stroke patient to a hospital as soon as possible.
The following test can help you determine if someone is having a stroke:
- F—Face: Ask the person to smile and look for drooping on one side of the face.
- A—Arms: Ask the person to raise both arms and look for one arm that is drifting downward.
- S—Speech: Ask the person to repeat a simple phrase and listen for slurred or strange speech.
- T—Time: Time is essential, so call 9-1-1 immediately.
Types of Stroke
There are three types of stroke. They are:
- Ischemic: Most strokes (87 percent) are ischemic, when blood flow through the artery that supplies oxygen-rich blood to the brain becomes blocked, usually by a blood clot.
- Hemorrhagic: This type of stroke occurs when an artery in the brain bleeds or ruptures. The leaking blood puts so much pressure on brain cells that it damages them. The two types of hemorrhagic stroke are:
- Intracerebral hemorrhage: An artery in the brain bursts, discharging blood to the surrounding tissue.
- Subarachnoid hemorrhage: There is bleeding between the brain and the thin tissue covering it.
- Transient ischemic attack (TIA), also called a ministroke: This type of stroke is short in length—blood flow to the brain is blocked for less than 5 minutes.
Sometimes people experience TIA and ignore it because they feel better afterward, but TIA is a warning sign of a future major stroke. It is a medical emergency just like ischemic and hemorrhagic strokes.
More than one-third of people who experience TIA and do not receive treatment will have a major stroke within a year.
Risk Factors of Stroke
Some risk factors of stroke cannot be controlled. But other risks are caused by lifestyle and can be changed.
Lifestyle-related risk factors for stroke include:
- High blood pressure (hypertension)—a consistently high blood pressure (140/90 or higher) can damage blood vessels that supply blood to the brain
- Cigarette smoking
- High cholesterol and lipids, which can contribute to hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis) caused by a buildup of plaque
- Heavy drinking—more than two drinks a day can raise blood pressure and binge drinking can lead to a stroke
- Fatty diets
- Lack of exercise
- Birth control pills (oral contraceptives)
- Illegal drugs—drugs taken intravenously can cause blood clots, as does cocaine use
- High red blood count—a significant increase in red blood cells can thicken the blood and lead to clotting
Non-lifestyle-related risk factors of stroke include:
- Gender–more men than women experience strokes, but more women die from them.
- Race—African Americans have a higher risk for death and disability from strokes than whites do.
- Age—the chance of having a stroke more than doubles for each decade of life after age 55
- History or prior stroke—Having had a stroke puts a person at risk of developing another.
- Heredity—chance of stroke is higher in people with a family history of stroke
Other risk factors include:
- Where one lives—strokes are more common in the southeastern United States than elsewhere, which may be related to smoking habits, diet, lifestyle, and race.
- Climate—stroke deaths are more common in extreme temperatures.
- Socioeconomic factors—strokes are more common among low-income people.
How Strokes Are Diagnosed and Treated
When symptoms are experienced, a person is rushed to the emergency room, where tests are administered to confirm the appearance of a stroke. Tests can include a CT scan (computed tomography), an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging), CTA (computed tomographic angiography), MRA (magnetic resonance angiography), Doppler sonography (carotid ultrasound) as well as ECG (electrocardiogram) and an echocardiogram.
Treatment consists of lifestyle changes along with blood thinners; antiplatelets, like aspirin; blood-pressure medicines; cholesterol-reducing drugs; and medicines to treat heart problems and diabetes. Sometimes surgery is necessary to treat a stroke or prevent one in the future.
In East County San Diego, Sharp Grossmont Hospital was just designated as a Comprehensive Stroke Center. This prestigious award means the hospital has the most advanced imaging and surgical technologies and a team of highly trained experts.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, up to 80 percent of strokes could be prevented with healthy lifestyle changes. For more information, see https://www.cdc.gov/stroke/healthy_living.htm.
Sources: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Stroke: Healthy Living, https://www.cdc.gov/stroke/healthy_living.htmcd, Signs and Symptoms, https://www.cdc.gov/stroke/signs_symptoms.htm, Stroke Statistics, https://www.cdc.gov/stroke/facts.htm, Types of Stroke, https://www.cdc.gov/stroke/types_of_stroke.htm; Johns Hopkins Medicine, “Risk Factors for Stroke,” https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/stroke/risk-factors-for-stroke. Comprehensive Stroke Center at Sharp Grossmont Hospital, https://www.sharp.com/hospitals/grossmont/departments/stroke.cfm
Images courtesy: CDC, https://www.cdc.gov/stroke/communications_kit.htm; National Institutes of Health, https://www.stroke.nih.gov/materials/infographics.htm.