Are You Having A Stroke?
(BlackDoctor.org) — What is a stroke? This life-threatening condition is a medical emergency and the third leading cause of death in the U.S. It occurs when a blood vessel in the brain bursts or, more commonly, when a blockage develops. Without treatment, cells in the brain quickly begin to die. The result can be serious disability or death. If a loved one is having stroke symptoms, seek emergency medical attention without delay.
Signs of a stroke may include:
• Sudden numbness or weakness of the body, especially on one side.
• Sudden vision changes in one or both eyes.
• Sudden, severe headache with unknown cause.
• Sudden problems with dizziness, walking, or balance.
• Sudden confusion, difficulty speaking or understanding others.
Call 911 immediately if you notice any of these symptoms.
Stroke Test: Talk, Wave, Smile
The F.A.S.T. test helps spot symptoms. It stands for:
Face. Ask for a smile. Does one side droop?
Arms. When raised, does one side drift down?
Speech. Can the person repeat a simple sentence? Does he or she have trouble or slur words?
Time. Time is critical. Call 911 immediately if any symptoms are present.
Time = Brain Damage
Every second counts when seeking treatment for a stroke. When deprived of oxygen, brain cells begin dying within minutes. There are clot-busting drugs that can curb brain damage, but they have to be used within three hours of the initial stroke symptoms. Once brain tissue has died, the body parts controlled by that area won’t work properly. This is why stroke is a top cause of long-term disability.
Diagnosing a Stroke
When someone with stroke symptoms arrives in the ER, the first step is to determine which type of stroke is occurring. There are two main types, and they are not treated the same way. A CT scan can help doctors determine whether the symptoms are coming from a blocked blood vessel or a bleeding one. Additional tests may also be used to find the location of a blood clot or bleeding within the brain.
The most common type of stroke is known as an ischemic stroke. Nearly nine out of 10 strokes fall into this category. The culprit is a blood clot that obstructs a blood vessel inside the brain. The clot may develop on the spot or travel through the blood from elsewhere in the body.
Hemorrhagic strokes are less common but far more likely to be fatal. They occur when a weakened blood vessel in the brain bursts. The result is bleeding inside the brain that can be difficult to stop.
A transient ischemic attack, often called a “mini-stroke,” is more like a close call. Blood flow is temporarily impaired to part of the brain, causing symptoms similar to an actual stroke. When the blood flows again, the symptoms disappear. A TIA is a warning sign that a stroke may happen soon. It’s critical to see your doctor if you think you’ve had a TIA. There are therapies to reduce the risk of stroke.
What Causes a Stroke?
A common cause of stroke is atherosclerosis — hardening of the arteries. Plaque made of fat, cholesterol, calcium, and other substances builds up in the arteries, leaving less space for blood to flow. A blood clot may lodge in this narrow space and cause an ischemic stroke. Atherosclerosis also makes it easier for a clot to form. Hemorrhagic strokes often result from uncontrolled high blood pressure that causes a weakened artery to burst.
Common risk factors include chronic conditions (such as high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity) unhealthy behaviors (such as smoking and not exercising enough), and a poor diet. Uncontrollable factors include aging, having a family history of strokes, being a male, and race (African-Americans, Native Americans, and Alaskan Natives are at greater risk compared to people of other ethnicities).
For an ischemic stroke, emergency treatment focuses on medicine to restore blood flow. A clot-busting medication is highly effective at dissolving clots and minimizing long-term damage, but it must be given within three hours of the onset of symptoms. Hemorrhagic strokes are more difficult to manage. Treatment usually involves attempting to control high blood pressure, bleeding, and brain swelling.
Stroke Prevention: Lifestyle
People who have had a stroke or TIA can take steps to prevent a recurrence:
• Quit smoking.
• Exercise and maintain a healthy weight.
• Limit alcohol and salt intake.
• Eat a healthier diet with more veggies, fish, and whole grains.
Stroke Prevention: Medication
For people with a high risk of stroke, doctors often recommend medications to lower this risk. Anti-platelet medicines, including aspirin, keep platelets in the blood from sticking together and forming clots. Anti-clotting drugs, such as warfarin, may be needed to help ward off stroke in some patients. Finally, if you have high blood pressure, your doctor will prescribe medication to lower it.
Stroke Prevention: Surgery
In some cases, a stroke results from a narrowed carotid artery — the blood vessels that travel up each side of the neck to bring blood to the brain. People who have had a mild stroke or TIA due to this problem may benefit from surgery known as carotid endarterectomy. This procedure removes plaque from the lining of the carotid arteries and can prevent additional strokes.
Stroke Prevention: Balloon and Stent
Doctors can also treat a clogged carotid artery without major surgery in some cases. The procedure, called angioplasty, involves temporarily inserting a catheter into the artery and inflating a tiny balloon to widen the area that is narrowed by plaque. A metal tube, called a stent, can be inserted and left in place to keep the artery open.
Life After a Stroke
More than half of people who have a stroke regain the ability to take care of themselves. Those who get clot-busting drugs soon enough may recover completely. And those who experience disability can often learn to function independently through therapy. While the risk of a second stroke is higher at first, this risk drops off over time.