A stroke is a serious type of cardiovascular disease which occurs when blood vessels are not able to provide adequate blood flow to part of the brain, causing brain cells to begin to die of oxygen deprivation. Sudden loss of blood flow typically happens due to either a rupture or break in an artery or the presence of an obstruction such as a blood clot in one of the blood vessels. A stroke is considered a medical emergency. Around 140,000 Americans die annually of stroke, making it one of the top five causes of death in the United States.
There are two primary types of strokes:
Transient Ischemic Attack (“Mini-Stroke”)
A transient ischemic attack (TIA) occurs when blood flow to the brain is temporarily restricted, causing stroke-like symptoms that go away on their own without any permanent effects. While these “false alarms” may occur, you shouldn’t assume that’s what’s happening if you experience stroke symptoms. Don’t wait – call 911 immediately.
A stroke is a dire medical issue, and a rapid response can mean the difference between life or death. It’s very important to recognize the signs of stroke immediately when they occur. When considering the symptoms to look out for, remember the acronym FAST:
F: Face – Numbness or drooping of one side of the face is often an indication that someone is having a stroke. Ask them to smile and see if one side of the face visibly droops lower than the other.
A: Arms – Another thing to watch out for is sudden weakness in one of the arms. Someone having a stroke may be unable to lift one of their arms over their head without it drifting downward.
S: Speech – Speech that is slurred, nonsensical, or difficult to understand may be another sign of stroke.
T: Time to Call 911 – If you notice these signs of stroke, seek medical attention immediately. Fast action can be absolutely critical, and every second spent waiting for symptoms to go away can increase the chance of worse complications and even death.
Other potential symptoms of stroke include a sudden, severe headache, possibly accompanied by nausea or vomiting. You may also experience dizziness, confusion, difficulty standing or walking, and/or loss of vision in one or both eyes.
There are some risk factors which are beyond your control, including sex (men are more likely to have a stroke than women), age (strokes most often affect people over the age of 55), race (strokes are more common among African-Americans than other demographics in the US), and family history.
Other contributors which can be addressed include lifestyle factors like stress, obesity, lack of exercise, smoking cigarettes, and over-consumption of alcohol. You are at a higher risk of stroke if you have a condition which affects blood flow, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, sleep apnea, or cardiovascular disease (CVD). Taking some blood thinners may also increase your risk. Stroke is also a potential complication of becoming infected with the COVID-19 coronavirus.
During a potential stroke, time is of the essence, and your doctor will try to establish the nature of the issue as quickly as possible. If you are able to communicate, they may ask questions about your symptoms and will perform a physical examination. Other diagnostic procedures that could be used to identify the type of stroke include blood tests, CT scans, MRIs, and echocardiogram.
Emergency response to a stroke will depend on the root cause of the issue. If you have had an ischemic stroke caused by a blood clot, the issue may be treatable within the first few hours using drugs that break up the clot to remove the obstruction. Your doctor may recommend surgery to implant a stent so that the passage will not become blocked again in the future.
In the case of a hemorrhagic stroke, medications may be used to stabilize the patient’s condition by reducing blood pressure and relieving pressure on the brain. Surgery may be required to repair the ruptured blood vessel.
A heart-healthy lifestyle is important to minimizing your risk of stroke. This means getting enough exercise, eating a healthy diet, and refraining from nicotine and alcohol consumption. It is critical to take medications prescribed by your cardiologist and properly manage any associated conditions such as diabetes or high blood pressure. All of these are doubly important if you have had a stroke in the past, as one in four people will end up suffering another stroke within the following five years.
The more time that elapses between the onset of stroke symptoms and emergency response, the more severe the risk of long-term complications. A stroke can result in brain damage, paralysis, permanent difficulty talking or swallowing, memory loss, or even death.