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What is Stroke?
Stroke is a medical condition that occurs as a result of blockage of blood vessels that carry nutrients and oxygen to the brain. This blockage can be due to rupturing of these vessels or a blockage caused by a clot.
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This blockage prevents a part of the brain from accessing oxygenated blood needed thereby causing the death of brain cells. Stroke can also be referred to as a cerebrovascular disease. Death of brain cells as a result of stroke leads to damage of the brain.
A stroke is a medical emergency. Some types of stroke can be treated while some usually lead to death or disability. In most cases, the effects of a stroke will depend on which part of the brain was damaged and the amount of damage caused.
Early action and response to stroke have the potential to significantly reduce the amount of brain damage and the occurrence of complications. It is important to note that there has been a significant decrease in the number of people who die from stroke.
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Symptoms of Stroke
It is important to pay attention to the timing of the onset of symptoms. Several treatment options have proven to be effective if given soon as a stroke starts. Common signs and symptoms of stroke include:
- Difficulty speaking and comprehending what others say – at the onset of stroke, a person will experience confusion. Their speech becomes slurred and will have difficulty understanding what others are saying.
- Numbness or paralysis of the leg, arm, or face – a person developing stroke will develop abrupt weakness, numbness, or paralysis in the leg, face, or arm. This affects only one side of the body.
- Vision problems in one or both eyes – stroke comes with sudden blackened or blurred vision in one or both eyes. A person may also see double.
- Difficulty walking – a person may lose balance or stumble when walking. They can also suddenly feel dizzy or lose coordination.
- Headache – a severe and sudden headache accompanied by dizziness, altered consciousness, and vomiting are an additional indication that a person could be suffering a stroke.
Causes of Stroke
Some of the conditions that increase the chances of a person developing stroke can be treated to avoid it altogether. Additional factors that increase a person’s chance of developing stroke are:
- Tobacco – chewing or smoking tobacco increases the risk of a stroke. Nicotine that is found in tobacco raises a person’s blood pressure. Smoking cigarette causes a buildup of fat around the main artery in the neck.
- High blood pressure – high blood pressure which is also hypertension is a major cause of stroke. It is important to discuss treatment for hypertension to avoid a stroke.
- Heart disease – heart disease is usually characterized by defective heart valves and atrial fibrillation which is an irregular heartbeat. Heart disease is responsible for a quarter of the total cases of stroke among the elderly population. Fatty deposits may also cause clogged arteries.
Causes and risk factors of stroke are different for different types of stroke. Chances of having a stroke are higher if a person:
- Is 55 years or older
- Is underweight or obese
- Has diabetes
- Has high cholesterol
- Has a personal or family history of stroke
- Has carotid artery disease, heart disease, or any other vascular disease.
- Uses illicit drugs
- Consumes alcohol excessively
- Is not physically active
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It has been noted that men have a higher risk of dying from stroke compared to women. However, further studies show that the risk of dying as a result of a stroke may increase depending on demographics and age and not necessarily on the biological differences between women and men.
Diagnosis of Stroke
Stroke begins very fast. Treatment within the first 3 hours of the onset of symptoms could lead to the best outcome. Doctors perform several different tests to determine the type of stroke. They include:
- Physical examination – a doctor will enquire about the medical history and symptoms of the patient. They will also check their vision, coordination, reflexes, muscle strength, and sensation. Additionally, they can also examine the blood vessels at the back of their eyes, listen to carotid arteries on the neck and check their blood pressure.
- CT Scan – several x-rays can show tumors, strokes and hemorrhages, and other conditions in the brain.
- Blood tests – a blood test can be done to determine if there are blood clots or if there is a high risk of bleeding. Additionally, a blood test can measure the levels of clotting factors and determine if there is an infection or not.
- MRI Scan – MRI scans use magnets and radio waves to create images of the brain that doctors use to determine if there is any tissues of the brain are damaged.
- Cerebral angiogram – doctors inject a dye into the blood vessels in the brain to make them more visible under MRI or X-ray. A cerebral angiogram gives a detailed image of the neck and brain.
- Carotid ultrasound – an ultrasound scan is done to check how the blood is flowing in the carotid arteries and to check if there is plaque or any narrowing.
- Echocardiogram – an echocardiogram gives a detailed image of the heart that can be used by doctors to check for any sources of clots that may have traveled to the brain.
Complications that arise from a Stroke
A stroke is always a medical emergency because it comes with life-threatening consequences. The human brain controls major functions to sustain human life. Lack of blood flow to the brain, the brain cannot breathe.
Complications of stroke differ depending on if a person can receive treatment and the type of stroke. Common complications of stroke are:
- Behavior change – stroke may cause a person to develop anxiety or depression. Additionally, a person’s behavior may change. They may become more withdrawn or be more impulsive. They may stop socializing with other people.
- Difficulty talking – a stroke may affect the part of the brain that controls swallowing and speech. This can result in difficulty reading, understanding other people speaking, and difficulty writing.
- Pain or numbness – stroke can cause decreased sensation and numbness in some parts of the body. Sometimes, this may be accompanied by pain. Brain injury as a result of a stroke may affect the ability of a person to sense temperature, a condition called stroke pain, and is usually difficult to treat.
- Paralysis – the brain works to control and direct movement. Having a stroke on the right side of the brain is likely to affect the left side of the body. People who have had a stroke often are not able to move one of their arms or use their facial muscles.
How is Stroke Treated?
Stroke treatment depends on several factors. This could be the type of stroke and its duration. It is important to seek treatment as soon as possible to gain better or full recovery.
- TIA – treatment for this type of stroke includes taking medications to help prevent the reoccurrence of stroke in the future. Medications for this stroke could include anticoagulants and antiplatelets.
Antiplatelets reduce the chance of platelets sticking together to cause a clot. Examples of antiplatelet medications are aspirin and clopidogrel. Anticoagulants minimize the buildup of the protein responsible for clotting.
There are different types of coagulants and they include dabigatran (Pradaxa) and warfarin (Coumadin). Carotid endarterectomy which is a type of surgery can also be used. This surgery is used to remove the buildup of plaque in the carotid artery found in the neck which is one of the main causes of stroke.
- Ischemic stroke – the type of treatment of ischemic stroke depends on how fast a person accesses a hospital and the medical history of the person. If a person can get to a hospital within the first three hours, they may be given a medication called tissue plasminogen activator. This medication is delivered through IV. It has the potential to dissolve a clot. However, tPA is not recommended for all people because of the risk of bleeding. Before administering this medication, a doctor will consider the medical history of the person. Alternatively, doctors can physically remove the clot or deliver medications to the brain to bust clots.
- Hemorrhagic stroke – treatment for this type of stroke focuses on stopping bleeding in the brain to reduce side effects of a brain hemorrhage. It includes surgical procedures known as coiling and clipping. Additionally, medications may be given to minimize intracranial pressure.
Fast access to medical care may help reduce the effects of stroke. A stroke can reoccur mostly within 5 years. Several lifestyle changes can reduce the chances of having a stroke/ reoccurrence of stroke.
- Eating a healthy diet to maintain normal weight
- Being physically active
- Reducing alcohol intake
- Not using illicit drugs
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