What is a stroke?
A stroke occurs one of three ways:
- blockage of a blood vessel supplying the brain
- bleeding into or around the brain
- blood clot blocks or plugs a blood vessel or artery in the brain
When a stroke occurs the blood supply to part of the brain is suddenly interrupted. Brain cells die when they no longer receive oxygen and nutrients from the blood or there is sudden bleeding into or around the brain.
What are the symptoms of a stroke?
Symptoms include sudden numbness or weakness, especially on one side of the body; sudden confusion or trouble speaking or understanding speech; sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes; sudden trouble with walking, dizziness, or loss of balance or coordination; or sudden severe headache with no known cause.
Why are stroke symptoms hard to identify?
Usually, one is not able to perceive one's own problems correctly. To a bystander, the stroke patient may simply seem confused. The best chance a stroke victim has is if someone nearby recognizes the symptoms and acts quickly.
What should someone do if they think another person is having a stroke?
During a stroke, bystanders should know the signs and act in time. If you believe someone is having a stroke -- if the person loses the ability to speak, move an arm or leg on one side, or experiences facial paralysis on one side -- call 911 immediately. Stroke is a medical emergency. Immediate stroke treatment may save someone's life and enhance his or her chances for successful rehabilitation and recovery.
A standard way of recognizing stroke symptoms is the FAST method:
- Facial Weakness - Can the person smile?
- Arm or Leg Weakness - Can the person raise both arms?
- Speech Difficulty - Can the person speak clearly?
- Time to Act Fast - Call 911 or seek medical attention
The window for immediate treatment for stroke victims is only a few hours, and the victim must get to the hospital within 60 minutes. So, it's important that more people are aware of the FAST symptoms awareness method and act accordingly when they see signs of a stroke. For a quick reference of the FAST method, click here.
What are the treatments for a stroke?
Generally there are three treatment stages for stroke: prevention, therapy immediately after the stroke, and post-stroke rehabilitation. Therapies to prevent a first or recurrent stroke are based on treating an individual's underlying risk factors for stroke, such as high blood pressure, atrial fibrillation, and diabetes. Acute stroke therapies try to stop a stroke while it is happening by quickly dissolving the blood clot causing an ischemic stroke or by stopping the bleeding of a hemorrhagic stroke. Post-stroke rehabilitation helps individuals overcome disabilities that result from stroke damage. Medication or drug therapy is the most common treatment for stroke. The most popular classes of drugs used to prevent or treat stroke are antithrombotics (antiplatelet drugs and anticoagulants or "blood thinners") and thrombolytics.
How can someone reduce the risk of a stroke?
Stroke is a leading cause of serious, long-term adult disability. Four million Americans are living with the effects of stroke. The length of time to recover from a stroke depends on its severity. Fifty percent to 70% of stroke survivors regain functional independence, but 15% to 30% are permanently disabled.
To reduce your risk of stroke, monitor your blood pressure, track your cholesterol level, stop smoking, exercise regularly, and find out if you should be taking a drug to reduce blood clotting.