A stroke is when blood flow to the brain is suddenly cut off or reduced inhibiting oxygen from getting to cells. It only takes minutes for the brain cells to begin dying.
Every second is essential in minimizing the damage caused by stroke. The resulting damage varies with the severity of the stroke, timeliness of treatment, and location within the brain. A small stroke may leave a person with temporary weakness in a limb while someone else with a large stroke could have permanent paralysis or language disability. While it is possible to make a full recovery from a stroke, more than two-thirds of survivors will have to live with some type of disability.
Types of stroke
There are three different types of stroke depending on cause and location in the brain. Identifying which one it is may help hasten treatment.
A hemorrhagic stroke is when a blood cell in your brain leaks or ruptures. Blood spilling into the brain creates pressure and swelling, causing damage to the surrounding tissue and cells.
It is the lesser common type of stroke, accounting for about 15% of cases, but more often results in death – almost 40%.
There are two types of hemorrhagic stroke:
Intracerebral hemorrhage, the more common type of hemorrhagic stroke, is when a vessel bursts and leaks within the brain damaging the surrounding cells. Cells beyond the leak are also damaged by oxygen deprivation.
Subarachnoid hemorrhage is when the leak occurs on the surface of the brain in the area between the brain and skull – an area called the subarachnoid space.
Ischemic stroke is when an artery in the brain is blocked or narrowed and is the most common type of stroke standing at roughly 80% of strokes. The two types of ischemic stroke are:
Embolic strokes are when there is a clot or plaque (fatty deposit) fragment somewhere else in the body and it travels to the brain where it gets stuck, blocking blood flow.
Thrombotic stroke is when the clot or buildup forms in an artery that supplies blood to the brain.
Transient Ischemic Attack (TIA)
A transient ischemic attack, also known as a mini-stroke, is when blood flow is slowed or blocked temporarily and typically no permanent damage is caused. Symptoms are temporary and TIAs can be as short as 5 minutes.
Someone who has had a TIA should be seen by a doctor immediately as the risk for a full stroke is increased. There is no way to tell the difference between a TIA and a full stroke just by symptoms.
Learning the symptoms of a stroke can be a vital part of a person’s survival. Only a quarter of Americans are able to name a stroke warning. If you notice one or more of these symptoms seek immediate medical attention. Many of these happen suddenly.
- A severe headache with no known cause
- Difficulty seeing in one or both eyes
- Dizziness, loss of balance, or trouble walking
- Confusion, trouble speaking or understanding speech
- Weakness or numbness – especially on one side – in the face, arm, or leg.
Knowing how to act FAST can help reduce the damage caused by stroke. Every second counts.
Below are some risk factors that increase a person’s chance of having a stroke. While some of these are unavoidable, working on the ones that are changeable can help lower your risk level and possibly increase your quality of life.
- Age – being over the age of 55 increases your risk of a stroke
- Sex – men are more likely than women to have a stroke but women are older when they have one and are more likely to die of a stroke.
- Race – African-Americans have a higher risk of stroke.
- Hormones – estrogen-based therapies, use of birth control, and the higher levels of estrogen during pregnancy and after childbirth increase the risk of stroke.
- Physical inactivity
- Heavy drinking
- Illicit drugs (cocaine, methamphetamines, etc)
- Smoking and secondhand smoke
- High cholesterol
- High blood pressure
- Cardiovascular disease (abnormal heartbeat, heart failure, defects, and infection)
- Obstructive sleep apnea
- A family history of stroke, TIA, or heart attack
Various lifestyle changes can help reduce a person’s risk of having a stroke.
- Alert your doctor if someone in your family has had a stroke
- Maintain a healthy weight with a balanced diet and exercise – limit salt to help keep blood pressure down and foods that may increase plaque formation. Work in lots of fresh fruits and vegetables into your diet. Staying active keeps weight down and reduces stress, while helping to control various health conditions like diabetes. Even just 10 pounds of extra weight can put a strain on the body increasing the risk of developing or exacerbating health concerns.
- Drink responsibly – excessive use of alcohol can increase blood pressure and risk of stroke
- Quit smoking – other than a host of issues that come with smoking such as tar buildup in lungs and increased risk of cancer, it also thickens the blood, allows for more plaque buildup, and speeds up clot formations.
- Control health conditions – conditions like diabetes, sleep apnea, high blood pressure, and heart disease can increase your risk of having a stroke. A person with diabetes is 2-4 times more likely to have a stroke! Keeping these health concerns in check can help lower the risk of having a stroke.
Speak to your doctor if you need help with changing habits. Friends, family, and support groups are also options for achieving your lifestyle goals.
Women & Stroke
Each year, more women than men have a stroke. Because women tend to live longer, they are more susceptible in their older ages, but also, hormones can play a role. Birth control pills and post-menopausal hormone therapy, things specific to women, can increase the risk of stroke.
Signs that can lead to stroke are sometimes revealed during pregnancy, like vascular disease or high blood pressure during or before pregnancy. Preeclampsia during pregnancy is shown to double the risk of stroke.
Depending on location and severity, the aftermath of a stroke for a person varies, therefore, each person’s recovery plan is unique. Stroke is the leading cause, in the U.S., of disability in adults; while some may make a full recovery more than 66% will have some form of disability.
Again, location and severity of a stroke are individual to each person and create unique conditions to overcome. Other troubles a person may struggle with include:
- Control of body parts
- Memory and cognition
This is a life-changing event that affects not just the survivor emotionally and physically but has an impact on loved ones as well. There are communities and support systems to help all those working to overcome their hardships. It’s important to remember you are not alone. Feel free to contact us if you are looking for therapy options or more information. National Stroke Association is another great organization that is a well of information.