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Stroke Information

What Is A Stroke? Signs And Symptoms Of A Stroke

a stroke is a medical emergency, treat it as such

A Stroke Is A Medical Emergency
A stroke is very often painless, the symptoms of a stroke can often be overlooked or mistaken for something simple that does not warrant medical attention. Medical experts believe that 50% of all strokes can be prevented and yet, stroke is the leading cause of disability in the United States. In this article we try to answer the most common questions related to stroke. In an effort to make the information useful to as many people as possible, we have kept the explanations simple and tried to avoid technical jargon. This information is provided to make the reader aware of stroke and it's related complications, it is NOT expected to replace the advice and treatment that a professional medical expert would provide.

Common Stroke Questions And Doubts

What is a stroke?
What are the signs and symptoms of a stroke?
What are the different types of strokes?
What are the risk factors of a stroke?
Can a stroke be prevented?
When should you suspect a stroke?
What is a 'mini stroke' or TIA?
How is a stroke medically diagnosed?
Websites providing useful stroke information.

In this article we try to answer the above questions in a simple language that can be understood by as many readers as possible. Medical research has provided many advancements for the diagnosis and treatment of strokes. However, millions of people are affected by strokes each year and the main reason is that not many people are aware of stroke symptoms. A stroke can be the cause of many disabilities and preventive action along with prompt medical attention is very essential.

What is a stroke?

To understand the magnitude of damage that a stroke could cause, you need to first have a clear understanding of what a stroke is. The human brain is the central organ that controls the functions of all other organs. Sight, speech and physical movement of limbs, fingers and muscles are all controlled by the brain. To perform the vital role of a central controlling unit, the brain needs to have a regular and uninterrupted supply of oxygen and nutrients. Oxygen and other nutrients are delivered to the brain through the blood and a proper flow of blood is therefore necessary. A stroke is said to occur when the blood flow to the brain or a part of the brain is interrupted. This interruption of blood flow to the brain means that the affected portion of the brain is starved of oxygen and nutrients. The brain functions that would be negatively affected by the stroke would depend on the portion of the brain that is affected by the stroke. Since the main damage of a stroke is felt by the brain, a stroke is sometimes referred to as a 'brain attack'.

What are the symptoms of a stroke?
There are a few warning signs of a stroke and you should be aware of them. It is not necessary that all these signs appear together and the acuteness of these stroke signs would depend on the degree of damage that has been caused to the brain by the stroke. Different parts of the brains control different functions and the stroke symptoms that are observed in each case would depend on the portion of the brain that is affected. Here are the most common symptoms caused by a stroke, please remember that any of these signs should be taken seriously and medical attention sought. There are two major types of strokes and the symptoms could come up suddenly or develop gradually over a period of time, depending on the type of stroke.

Symptoms And Signs Of A Stroke

-   A sudden weakness or numbness of the face, arm or leg. If any of these are observed on one side of the body, the chances of them being a sign of a stroke are much higher.
-   A speech related symptom of a stroke would be when there is a sudden difficulty in speaking or understanding speech.
-   Sudden difficulty in seeing with one or both eyes, should be taken to be a sign of a stroke. This problem is not always related to a stroke, however get medical attention immediately to rule out the possibility of a stroke.
-   A stroke should also be suspected if there is a sudden headache with no apparent reason. Such headaches could provide early detection of a stroke and improve chances of treating a stroke.
-   Sudden trouble walking because of dizziness, loss of balance or coordination should also be taken to be a symptom of a stroke. A damaged brain caused by a stroke could be the cause of difficult in walking normally.
-   Besides the above, stroke symptoms could also include vomiting, sudden confusion and sudden decrease in the degree of conciousness.

What are the different types of strokes?
There are two main types of strokes, the first one is the Ischemic stroke and this type of stroke accounts for 80% of all strokes that occur. The second type of stroke is the Hemmorraghic stroke, we present a brief explanation of these two types of strokes.

(a) Ischemic stroke: This is the most common type of stroke, it occurs when a clot or other blockage within an artery stops or hinders blood flow to the brain. Blood clots that form within blood vessels in the brain or in blood vessels that lead to the brain can cause a stroke. Besides these two cases, it is also possible that blood clots could form in other parts of the body and then move to the brain through the blood stream. It has been found that, Ischemic strokes account for over 80% of strokes that occur.

(b) Hemorraghic stroke: The word hemmorage in medical terms means the breaking or rupturing of a blood vessel. When this occurs in a blood vessel within the brain, it is referred to as 'brain hemorrage'. This condition triggers a stroke and is mainly caused by high blood pressure or a medical condition where the walls of blood vessels grow thin and rupture easily. The medical condition where the walls of a blood vessel become thinner than normal is referred to as 'aneurysm'. Brain hemmorage is further classified into two categories, Intracerebral hemmorage and Subarachnoid hemmorage. If the rupture of an artery occurs within the brain, it is referred to as an Intracerebral hemmorage and in this case blood is released into the brain. In the case of a Subarachnoid hemmorage, the location of the ruptured artery is such that, blood is released in the space surrounding the brain rather than into the brain.

The symptoms of a stroke could differ depending on the type of stroke that has occured. Stroke signs in certain cases could come suddenly or gradually develop over a period of time. Some stroke symptoms could come and then disappear within a short span of time, other stroke symptoms could remain for days and even worsen in some cases. Medical expertise is required to diagnose and understand the type of stroke in each case, treatment and danger levels would be related to this diagnosis.

What are the risk factors of a stroke?
Certain risks factors cannot be controlled, but you should know that over 50% of all strokes are preventable. Your doctor could advise you regarding how controllable stroke risk factors can be handled before they cause problems. Stroke symptoms are very often ignored as they are not accompanied by pain and are mistaken to be minor ailments. Regular medical check ups can help detect stroke risk factors before they become more threatening. You must contact your doctor if you ever experience or even suspect that you have any of the stroke signs or stroke symptoms mentioned above.

Controllable stroke risk factors

-   High blood pressure if not detected and treated, increases the risk of getting a stroke.
-   Atrial fibrillation is a condition where irregular heart beat occurs due to the heart muscles beating out of rhythm, this poses a risk of getting a stroke.
-   Diabetes that is not controlled. Type 2 diabetes is a significant factor in increasing blood pressure and this leads to an increase in the chances of getting a stroke.
-   High cholestrol levels lead to clogging of arteries with cholestrol and this leads to an increase in stroke risk.
-   Smoking cigrattes increases the probability of getting a stroke and giving up smoking would reduce the risks of getting a stroke.
-   Regular or frequent intake of more than one alcholic drink per day.
-   Being overweight increases the chances of having high blood pressure and diabetes. These are two proven causes for the occurence of strokes.
-   Existing carotid and/or artery disease.
-   Physical inactivity, which basically means lack of regular excercise is also a stroke risk factor.

Uncontrollable risk factors of a stroke

-   All human beings grow old and increased age is one of the dominant risk factors for getting a stroke.
-   Males are at a slightly higher risk of getting a stroke, however studies have shown that ladies have an increased risk of getting a stroke after the age of around 75 years.
-   Family history of a stroke especially where the stroke occured before the age of 65 years, increases the likelihood of getting a stroke.
-   It is believed that black Canadians and Asian Canadians have a higher risk of getting a stroke as compared to people from other races.
-   If you have ever had a TIA (Transient Ishemic Attack), the chances of getting a stroke within one year are higher.

Timely detection and treatment of possible stroke causes will always work to your advantage as it could result in the reduction of stroke damage, reduce the chances of a stroke and in many cases, prevent a stroke from occuring. Nothing can replace the help that proper medical attention can provide so, ensure that all your doubts and fears are communicated to your doctor.

Can A Stroke Be Prevented?
Medical experts have made great strides in finding the causes of strokes. Advice is now available on ways to reduce the chances of getting a stroke. Since the risk factors related to getting a stroke can either be controllable or uncontrollable, the possibility of reducing the risk of getting a stroke would depend on how the controllable factors of getting a stroke are handled. We provide a few suggestions that could help reduce the chances of getting a stroke, you can work with your doctor to arrive on a control plan that works for you.

Reducing The Chances Of A Stroke, Preventive Steps

-   Consult your doctor on ways to control your blood pressure and keep it well below danger levels. High blood pressure is directly related to stroke occurence and should therefore be controlled.
-   Get checked for possible Atrial fibrillation, this is a condition where the heart shows irregular beating and causes blood accumulation in the chambers of the heart. This accumulated blood clots and could move through the blood stream and trigger a stroke.
-   If you are a smoker work on a plan to control, reduce and then eliminate your smoking habit. Studies have shown that smoking almost doubles the risk of getting a stroke. Quitting smoking will help reduce the chances of getting a stroke, as the risk immediately starts dropping once you quit smoking.
-   Consume alcohol in moderation and remember that alcohol could also react with various medications that you take. Medical research has revealed that drinking one or two alcoholic drinks a day, can substantially reduce the risk of getting a stroke. However, the same medical experts also mention that, there is no need to start drinking if you do not drink at present.
-   If you are a diabetic, get medical attention and closely follow your doctor's advice to control your diabetes. Lifestyle changes, medication and proper diet could reduce the risk of getting a stroke.
-   Excercise regularly and include excercise as a regular routine in your daily activities. Excercising just 30 minutes a day could reduce the risk of getting a stroke.
-   A diet with lower fat and salt (sodium) would have a positive impact on lowering blood pressure. This would inturn reduce the risk of getting a stroke, so discuss the issue of a balanced diet with your doctor.
-   Any type of blockage in blood circulation through the heart or blood vessels increases the risk of getting a stroke. Medical tests and observations like, 'listening' to arteries, MRI images etc are available to detect blockages in blood flow. Once again, your doctor would be the best source for diagnosing and treating blood flow problems.

Medical research has been able to find the causes of a stroke, it is therefore possible to work on these causes and reduce the chances or intensity of a stroke. Preventive measures like a controlled diet, regular excercise, and regular medical examinations can have a positive effect even in cases where, uncontrollable stroke risks are involved. For example, diabetics have a higher chance of getting a stroke, but controlling your diabetes would also help reduce the risk of a stroke. It is best to consult your doctor and work out a schedule that includes, diet, excercise and lifestyle changes that might be necessary to prevent or reduce the chances of a stroke.

When Should You Suspect A Stroke?
Timely medical attention is very important for a person suffering from a stroke. In many cases, stroke symptoms could seem to disappear but would infact cause more permanent damage in the future. For this reason it is vital to quickly observe any signs of a stroke and provide medical attention as soon as possible. Medical researchers have devised a simple set of tests that can be used even by non-medical people to identify possible stroke cases. It is important to understand that even a slight doubt should be enough to consider the case as a medical emergency. The table below shows the simple tests for detecting a stroke, memorize it and teach it to as many people as you can.

An Easy Stroke Test That Everyone Should Know

-   Ask the person to smile: Look for signs of the face drooping when smiling.
-   Request the person to raise both arms: Check if the person has difficulty in keeping both arms at the same level. A tendency of one arm drifting downward should be taken to be a sign of a stroke.
-   Ask the person to repeat a sentence: Pay attention and check whether the words are spoken with a slurred accent. Also make sure that the sentence is repeatedly correctly.

A person suffering from a stroke might not show all these stroke symptoms and the presence of any of these symptoms means that the case should be treated as a medical emergency. The above warning signs are very important and you should spend some time in memorizing them as, every second is vital for a stroke victim. A stroke in most cases might not be painful, so do not wait for signs of pain to confirm that a person is suffering from a stroke. In any case, do not wait to see if any or all of these stroke symptoms go away on their own, there is no substitute for professional medical attention.

What is a TIA, or Mini Stroke?
As we mentioned above, there are two main types of strokes, the first is the Ischemic Stroke and the other is the Hemorrhagic Stroke. The TIA is actually a type of Ischemic Stroke where stroke symptoms occur suddenly and disappear after a few minutes. The full form of TIA is Transient Ischemic Attack and though symptoms disappear after a few moments, immediate medical attention should be provided. A TIA is very often not given the level of attention that it deserves and this is mainly because the stroke symptoms in this case are temporary. However, it is important to understand that in most cases, a TIA is a warning that a full blown stroke could occur. People who have had a TIA are much more likely to suffer a stroke as compared to those who have never had a TIA.

How is a stroke medically diagnosed?
We do not want this article to be a research paper related to strokes and the information provided here is mainly intended to provide basic information regarding a stroke. Keeping this in mind, we will briefly explain a few methods used to diagnose the occurence of a stroke without getting into technical details. Various techniques are available to check for a stroke and your doctor will advise you regarding the best option based on your condition.

(a) CT or CAT Scan: This technique for stroke diagnosis uses a computer generated graphic display of a cross section of the brain. CT is the short form for 'computed tomography' and can help doctors understand the type of stroke too. As we have discussed earlier, a stroke can occur due to an artery blockage (ischemic stroke) or due to internal bleeding (hemorrhagic stroke). The type of treatment to be given and the urgency of the situation will also depend on the type of stroke that has occured.

(b) MRI Scanning: This method studies the changes in behaviour of brain cells by using magnetic fields, the full form of MRI is 'magnetic resonance imaging'. When the magnetic fields reach the brain cells, there are radio signals generated by the reaction of the brain cells (to the magnetic field). Computers then generate an accurate image of the brain by plotting these radio signals and provide valuable stroke information to doctors. The MRI techique to diagnose a stroke provides valuable information regarding hemorrhagic strokes as any abnormality in the formation of veins and arteries is clearly revealed. Ultrafast MRI methods are now available and these help plot the brain images more quickly thus allowing the right type of medication to be provided as quickly as possible.

(c) Angiography: is a technique where a dye is injected into the blood stream and blood flow studied by using x-ray images. Areas of the brain that have been starved of blood can be detected and the same technique also helps highlight blockages in blood vessels.

(d) Other techniques to diagnose a stroke are also available and include EEG (electroencephalogram), evoked response test, doppler ultrasound, ultrasound imaging etc.

In the case of a stroke, diagnosis and treatment needs to commence immediately before any permanent brain damage can occur. Time is of utmost importance in controlling the extent of damage that a stroke can cause, that is the reason why every possible case of stroke should be treated as an emergency. Any symptoms that could point towards a stroke should be taken seriously and only medical attention provided immediately.

Websites Providing Useful Stroke Information
We would like to mention the names of a few websites that have useful stroke information. We would like to repeat here that, all cases of strokes should be treated as medical emergencies and there is absolutely no substitute for professional medical attention. The information that you gather from any other source would help you get an overall idea of strokes and the dangers of leaving stroke symptoms undiagnosed and untreated.

Websites With Useful Stroke Information
   American Stroke Association
   The Mayo Clinic
   The Stroke Association, U.K
   Stroke Awareness For Everyone
   National Stroke Association

We do hope that you have found this information to be interesting and useful. Strokes are not very rare occurences but information and knowledge about strokes is not very widespread. You would therefore be doing a great service if you forward the link of this web page to your friends and acquaintances.

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