Stroke is a disease that doesn’t discriminate among age. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), stroke causes 6.2 million fatalities globally every year including babies, children, and adults of all ages. In the U.S., stroke is the 4th leading cause of death and kills someone in the country every four seconds.
A stroke can be devastating to individuals and their families stripping them of quality of life and independence. For stroke survivors, the challenges continue.
Roughly 50 million stroke survivors worldwide have a long-term disability causing social isolation, lack of psychological and emotional support, and depression.
However, according to the World Stroke Organization, 80% of strokes are preventable. Being aware of the warning signs of a stroke and what to do when you do notice them are vital to minimize its damage and enhance a patient’s recovery. And making smart lifestyle choices to mitigate the risk factors associated with stroke can go a long way to ward off the disease.
What Is a Stroke?
A stroke, also known as a “brain attack,” results from blood circulation failure to the brain. A stroke can manifest in one of two ways: from a blockage of an artery carrying oxygen-rich blood to the brain or from a rupture of a blood vessel which then bleeds into the brain. The lack of blood flow can damage and even worse, destroy brain cells.
The havoc wreaked by a stroke on the brain can impact the body’s core abilities including:
- Types of Stroke
There are two main types of stroke: ischemic (clots) and hemorrhagic (bleeding).
Ischemic strokes represent 87 percent of all stroke cases. An ischemic stroke comes about due to the accumulation of fatty deposits on the lining of the arteries, a condition known as atherosclerosis; it can cause clogging and blockage of blood flow to the brain.
These blockages typically take form in one of three ways:
- Thrombosis – a blood clot that forms in a blood vessel of the brain or neck
- Embolism – the development of a blood clot from another part of the body that breaks off and makes its way to the brain
- Stenosis – a severe narrowing of a blood vessel in or around the brain
A hemorrhagic stroke occurs when a blood vessel becomes weak and ruptures, causing bleeding into the brain and damaging the surrounding brain tissue. Uncontrolled hypertension is the most common cause of hemorrhagic stroke.
What Are the Warning Signs of a Stroke?
When your brain doesn’t receive enough oxygen, your body will send some definite signs to sound the alarm:
- Is your face drooping?
- Are your arms or legs weak, particularly on one side of the body?
- Is your speech slurred and jumbled?
- Do you have sudden vision difficulties in one or both eyes?
- Are you suddenly dizzy, off-balance or have trouble walking?
- Do you have a sudden, severe headache for no reason?
If you notice one or more of these warning signals, even if they only last a few moments, don’t wait. Call a 911 immediately or get to a hospital.
Seeking Proper Treatment
Immediately recognizing a stroke and seeking medical attention are the first critical steps in averting death and improving your chances for a full recovery afterward. Research shows that stroke patients recover better when they receive care in a specialized stroke unit under the supervision of a specially trained team.
Initial treatment for ischemic stroke involves taking a clot-busting drug known as tPA (tissue Plasminogen Activator) which can help restore blood flow to blocked arteries and in some cases reverse some of the effects from stroke. The medication can be administered up to 4.5 hours after the onset of stroke symptoms. Patients can also undergo an endovascular thrombectomy (EVT), a revolutionary procedure where surgeons use image-guidance to remove large blood clots near the brain.
Hemorrhagic stroke typically cannot be treated with tPA or other clot-busting medications, and the recovery time is often longer than with an ischemic stroke. Your neurosurgical team may consider surgery to repair the damaged blood vessel in your brain and to control bleeding therein.
The rehabilitation process begins once you are stable. Proper rehabilitation is vital to regain normal functioning and reclaim your quality of life. Recovery is a long-term process, and depending on the patient and their medical history can take months or years.
Preventing a Stroke
Roughly one-quarter of stroke survivors will experience another stroke later on in life. Those most at risk are patients with high blood pressure, high levels of cholesterol, diabetes, and atrial fibrillation.
You can take a proactive approach to your health to avoid a repeat stroke occurrence by:
- Taking high-blood pressure and cholesterol medication
- Undergoing antiplatelet therapy
- Taking Anticoagulation medication
- Having surgery to correct conditions such as carotid artery restriction
The good news is that roughly 80% of premature stroke can be prevented through healthy lifestyle choices such as:
- Eating healthy, especially a low-salt diet
- Staying active and exercising regularly
- Living tobacco-free
- Restricting alcohol intake
If you have any questions or need more information about stroke diagnosis, treatment, and prevention, please contact us. We’ll be happy to hear and address any of your concerns.