What Is a Stroke?

Health,Home & Family
March 16, 2012

Signs, symptoms and treatment for America’s fourth leading cause of death

A stroke is the type of medical emergency that requires quick action. Strokes are the fourth leading cause of death and the leading cause of adult disability in the United States. In order to prevent permanent brain damage, complications and even death, it is crucial to know what a stroke is and what you can do about it.

What is a stroke? A stroke is an interruption of blood flow to the brain, typically by a dislodged blood clot. Strokes are also called brain attacks, as they are similar to heart attacks in cause and damage. According to the National Stroke Association, as many as 80 percent of strokes are preventable.

What are stroke symptoms? Two million brain cells die each minute during a stroke. It is vital to know the stroke signs and to act immediately to minimize damage to the brain. Some symptoms you should know are:

  • Sudden confusion, difficulty comprehending and speaking
  • Sudden difficulty with vision in either or both eyes
  • Sudden onset of severe headache for seemingly no reason
  • Sudden dizziness, difficulty walking, loss of coordination and balance
  • Numbness in the face, arm or leg, particularly on one side of the body
  • Weakness in the face, arm or leg, particularly on one side of the body

Ischemic stroke treatment. Act fast if a stroke is suspected. If one side of the body is unresponsive or droopy, the person cannot speak normally or seems confused, call for emergency medical care immediately. Fast action to restore blood flow is the key to the best overall outcome. Emergency medical treatment will include:

  • Aspirin or other blood thinners — The common and best immediate treatment for stroke is taking aspirin right away. Aspirin even reduces the chances of developing another stroke. Coumadin, heparin and clopidogrel are additional options that are used less often.
  • Intravenous injection of a tissue plasminogen activator or TPA — This quick-acting clot buster can help stroke patients recover more completely. This drug must be administered as soon as possible and within four and a half hours of stroke onset, states the Mayo Clinic. TPA can also be administered directly in the brain.
  • Clot removal — The actual removal of the clot is another option that doctors may use in treating strokes. A catheter is used to guide a device to the clot to grab and remove the clot.
  • Plaque removal — A carotid endartectomey may be performed if the blockage is located in the carotid artery on either sides of the neck.
  • Angioplasty — This surgical technique widens the plaque narrowed artery. A balloon-tipped catheter is guided to the obstructed area, and the balloon is inflated. Sometimes a mesh tube, called a stent, is used to keep the artery open.

Hemorrhagic stroke treatment. This type of stroke is caused not by a blockage but by a bleed that adds pressure to the brain. Treatments include:

  • Drugs — If you’re taking blood thinners, the doctors may give you medication to counteract those effects, as it makes the bleed worse. Aspirin is not recommended for this reason.
  • Surgical blood vessel repair — Surgical repair such as aneurysm clipping, embolization and removal of the malformed artery may be performed, if applicable.
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