In light of the “mild stroke” of superstar New England Patriot linebacker Tedy Bruschi, you may be interested in the facts about stroke, including some common misconceptions. A stroke, sometimes called a “brain attack,” occurs when part of the brain is starved of blood and oxygen. Depending upon the part of the brain affected, a person may have difficulty with speech, movement, balance or even breathing.
According to the National Stroke Association, approximately 750,000 strokes occur every year, killing 160,000. NSA further estimates there is up to a 14 percent increased risk of recurrent stroke within one year and up to a 40 percent risk within 5 years of the initial stroke.
There are two distinct types of strokes, ischemic—caused by a clot—and hemorrhagic, which is caused by a bleed.
An ischemic stroke, which makes up about 80 percent of all strokes, occurs when a blood clot cuts off blood flow to part of the brain. If an ischemic stroke is diagnosed within 3 hours of the first sign of symptoms, a medication called tissue plasminogen activator, or t-PA, may be given to help dissolve the clot and reduce the severity of the outcome. This medication would have a negative effect if the stroke were from a bleed, so quick diagnosis is extremely important. Often a CT scan or MRI is used to determine the nature of the stroke.
A hemorrhagic stroke is more difficult to treat. Monitoring and controlling blood pressure, brain swelling and other vital functions are the primary initial treatment. Since a hemorrhagic stroke is due to a burst blood vessel or ruptured aneurysm in the brain, controlling the bleeding can limit the amount of damage to the brain. Many times, the nature or extent of the injury is not evident for some time.
The most important thing you can do is know and recognize the symptoms of a stroke, and get medical attention immediately. According to the NSA these symptoms include:
- Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body
- Sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding
- Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes
- Sudden trouble walking, dizziness or loss of balance or coordination
- Sudden severe headache with no known cause
If the symptoms come on and then disappear, it is still important that you get treatment right away. This could indicate a TIA, or Transient Ischemic Attack, which is often a precursor to a stroke. Treating the underlying causes of a TIA could decrease the chances of having a stroke.
Risk factors for strokes include high cholesterol, high blood pressure, heart disease, atrial fibrillation (an improper contraction of the top part of the heart that can cause clots to form) and carotid artery disease (a narrowing in the neck arteries supplying blood to the brain). All of these risk factors can be reduced by working with your doctor.
Lifestyle risk factors include smoking, being overweight, being in poor physical condition and drinking too much alcohol.
Exercising 30 minutes even 3 days a week can significantly reduce the chances of stroke.
If you have had a stroke, you are generally discharged from the hospital to a rehabilitation facility. The focus here is to utilize physical therapy, occupational therapy and speech therapy to help restore some of the deficits that often occur after a stroke. The long-term outcome usually is dictated by the severity of the damage to the brain.
Eat properly, drink in moderation, don’t smoke, exercise regularly, know the symptoms of stroke and act fast when you believe a stroke is beginning to occur. Be prepared. A stroke is serious business.