Strokes are the 5th cause of death and the leading cause of disability in the United States alone. A stroke is a disease affecting the arteries leading to the brain. It occurs when a blood vessel carrying oxygen and nutrients to the brain is blocked or ruptures. When this happens, part of the brain is unable to receive the blood and oxygen it needs to survive, so it and brain cells begin ti die.
What Is a Stroke?
A stroke happens when blood flow to part of the brain is cut off, such as when a blood vessel carrying oxygen and nutrients to the brain is blocked by a clot, or it ruptures. After this, the brain is unable to get the blood and oxygen it needs, leading to brain cell death. Strokes can be caused by a clot obstructing the flow of blood into the brain (ischemic stroke) or by a blood vessel preventing blood flow into the brain (hemorrhagic stroke). This is sometimes called a mini-stroke.
Types of Strokes
Any stroke is a medical emergency. Without blood the brain cells start to die. This can cause serious symptoms, lasting disability, and in some cases, even death. There are several different kinds of stroke. Knowing them, their signs and symptoms, and to respond can be life-saving.
Ischemic Stroke (Clots)
Similar to a heart attack, except it occurs in the blood vessels in the brain. Clots can form anywhere in the body and then travel to the brain. These clots flow into the brain, causing a stroke. This kind of stroke also has the possibility of occurring when too much plaque clogs the brain’s blood vessels. Roughly 80% of all strokes are ischemic.
Hemorrhagic Stroke (Bleeds)
Hemorrhagic strokes occur when a blood vessel in the brain ruptures. As a result, blood seeps into the brain tissue, causing brain cell death. The most common cause of hemorrhagic strokes are high blood pressure and aneurysms.
TIA (Transient Ischemic Attack)
A transient ischemic attack (TIA) is like a stroke in that it produces similar symptoms. However, it usually only lasts a few minutes and doesn’t typically cause permanent damage. Often called a mini stroke, a transient ischemic attack is often a precursor to an actual stroke, with about half occurring within the year after the mini stroke.
Cryptogenic strokes are defined as cerebral ischemia of unknown origin. Their cause remains undetermined due to the event history being transitory or reversible. One-third of ischemic strokes are cryptogenic. These are typically treated differently per professional, due to their obscure nature.
Brain Stem Stroke
A brain stem stroke can interfere with several vital functions, including breathing, the heartbeat, and other autonomous bodily functions. They also have the possibility of impairing speech and hearing and may cause vertigo.
Who Is at Risk for a Stroke
There are many lifestyle factors that contribute to strokes. These include high blood pressure, smoking, diabetes, high blood cholesterol levels, heavy drinking, high sodium intake, high fat intake, and little exercise. Additionally, you are at risk of experiencing a stroke if you have already had one.
What Are the Symptoms of a Stroke
It is important to see a medical professional as soon as you notice any symptoms of a stroke, as immediate medical intervention can lead to improved overall diagnosis. In certain kinds of stroke, such as hemorrhagic strokes, delaying medical intervention can affect mortality rates.
Common signs and symptoms include:
- Weakness or numbness of the face, arm, or leg on one side of the body
- Loss of vision
- Loss of speech or difficulty talking
- Sudden, severe headache
- Loss of balance or stability
Treatments for Strokes
Emergency treatment options vary by stroke. For ischemic strokes, doctors must act quickly to restore blood flow to the brain. Therapy with blood-thinning medication must start within 4.5 hours if they are given intravenously. Prompt treatment not only improves the chances of survival but may also reduce complications.
Intravenous injection of tissue plasminogen activator (tPA).
This alteplase is considered the gold standard in treatment for an ischemic stroke. An injection of tPA is usually given in the arm. This is a potent clot-busting drug, preferably given within three hours of the stroke.
Medications delivered directly to the brain.
You may receive a catheter through an artery in the groin to deliver tPA into the area where the stroke is occurring. This is called intra-arterial thrombolysis.
Clot removal with stent retriever.
A catheter may be used to maneuver a device into the blocked blood vessel and remove the clot. This is beneficial for people with large clots that cannot be completely dissolved with tPA.
Emergency treatment of hemorrhagic strokes focus on controlling bleeding and reducing pressure in the brain. These include treatments with warfarin (Coumadin or Jantoven), or anti-platelet drugs such as clopidogrel (Plavix) to prevent blood clots. Drugs to lower pressure on the brain may be necessary, to prevent vasospasm and seizures.
Once the bleeding stops, treatment involves supportive medical care while the body absorbs the blood. Healing is similar to waiting for a bruise to dissolve. If the bleed is large, your doctor may perform surgery to remove it and relieve pressure on the brain.
AMA medical group was founded to support every member of the community. If you have had a stroke and are experiencing symptoms, don’t hesitate to contact us at (727) 331-8740 to schedule an appointment.