What is a Stroke?

A stroke happens if a blood vessel within the brain either bursts or becomes blocked. This causes the brain cells to become deprived of blood and oxygen and the brain begins to die. Brain damage can occur within just minutes of a stroke; therefore it is crucial to know the signs and symptoms of a stroke and what you can do to help.

What are the symptoms of a Stroke?

Often the symptoms of a stroke occur quite quickly.

Some symptoms that may be present when having a stroke are:

  • Sudden numbness, paralysis, or weakness in your face, arm, or leg, this will probably be most obvious on a single side.
  • Difficulties with walking or your balance.
  • Quick vision change.
  • Drooling or slurred speech.
  • Difficulty speaking or understanding a simple statement, or feeling confused.
  • Sudden, severe headache that is unlike other headaches you’ve experienced.


What Causes a Stroke?

There are two types of strokes, ischemic and hemorrhagic. Ischemic strokes are much more common, and occur when a blood clot blocks a blood vessel in the brain. A hemorrhagic stroke occurs when an artery in the brain leaks or bursts. This results with the bleeding inside the brain or near the surface. Although hemorrhagic strokes are less common they are more deadly than ischemic.

What Increases My Risk of Developing a Stroke?

Certain risk factors that are caused by other conditions include:

  • High blood pressure (hypertension)
  • Diabetes
  • High cholesterol
  • Coronary artery disease
  • Heart conditions (atrial fibrillation, endocarditis…etc)
  • Peripheral arterial disease

The warning signs of a stroke that can be changed include:

  • Smoking
  • Physical inactivity
  • Being overweight
  • Diet with few fruits and vegetables
  • Diet with too much salt
  • Certain medications (ask your doctor)
  • Heavy alcohol use
  • Illegal drugs (ex: Cocaine)

Risk factors that you cannot change include:

  • Age
  • Race
  • Gender
  • Family History

How is a Stroke Diagnosed?

Immediate medical attention is extremely important if you believe you are having a stroke. Doctors will perform a CT scan to determine what type of stroke it is and will then administer medications that will hopefully increase the chance of a successful recovery.

How are Strokes Treated?

Strokes are treated differently, depending on the type of stroke. The medication to treat a stroke caused by a blood clot is very dangerous if used in a victim of a hemorrhagic stroke.

Ischemic strokes – Treatment must first begin by restoring the flow of blood to the brain. If you have been seen by a doctor within 3 hours of your symptoms you may be able to take a medication that dissolves blood clots. Other medications can be given to prevent clots and control symptoms, but if you are seen within 3 hours you have significantly higher chances of a successful recovery.

Hemorrhagic stroke – These types of strokes can be very difficult to treat. Surgery may be necessary to stop the bleeding or reduce the pressure on the brain. Medicines can be used to control blood pressure, brain swelling, and other problems.

After you become stable and your current stroke is dealt with, your treatment will focus on preventing future strokes and helping any damage done during your initial stroke.

Medications for a Stroke

Blood clots cause most strokes, so medicines that prevent the formation of blood clots are used to prevent additional ischemic strokes. These medicines are usually given after the initial treatment for stroke. They are not recommended in the first 24 hours after t-PA has been given. The two types of medicines used to prevent clotting are:

Antiplatelet medicines, which prevent the smallest cells in blood (platelets) from sticking together. Aspirin is the antiplatelet medicine most commonly used to prevent strokes. People who cannot take aspirin or who have transient ischemic attacks (TIAs) or a stroke while taking aspirin are sometimes given other antiplatelet medicines, such as clopidogrel (Plavix). Another medicine that can prevent ischemic stroke is Aggrenox, which is aspirin combined with extended-release dipyridamole. Aspirin is not recommended within the first 24 hours of giving t-PA.

Anticoagulants, which prevent the production of proteins needed for blood to clot normally. Anticoagulants (particularly warfarin) are the best method of preventing blood clots that form in the heart because of atrial fibrillation, heart attack, heart valve problems, or heart failure. Anticoagulants are not given as emergency treatment for stroke. If you take warfarin (such as Coumadin)

For people with coronary artery disease, treatment with cholesterol-lowering drugs called statins can slow the development of atherosclerosis in the carotid arteries and may also reduce the chance of having a TIA or stroke. Studies have shown a reduced risk of stroke in people taking statins