A stroke is a medical emergency that arises with reduced or interrupted blood supply to a part of the brain Early treatment of the stroke may help reduce brain damage and future complications associated with the brain. A stroke can happen to people of any age group. But, your chances may increase if you have certain stroke risk factors such as hypertension (high blood pressure), diabetes, and abnormal heart rhythm.
What is a Stroke?
In order to work efficiently, your brain requires a constant supply of oxygen and nutrients through the blood. When the blood supply to the brain is reduced or interrupted, you develop a stroke. Your brain cells get depleted , leading to a loss of brain function. You may face difficulty performing activities that are controlled by the part of the brain that experienced a stroke.
A stroke may affect your ability to:
● Control emotions
● Control your bladder and bowel movements
● Control other vital functions
● Body movements including eating, speaking, or ambulation.
What Causes a Stroke?
A stroke is caused due to two main reasons:
● A blocked artery – known as ischemic stroke
● A leakage of a blood vessel – known as hemorrhagic stroke
An ischemic stroke is the most common type of stroke. It occurs when one of the major blood vessels of the brain is narrowed or blocked. The narrowing or blockage of the blood vessels happens due to the accumulation of plaques or clots .
When a blood vessel in your brain leaks or ruptures, you develop a hemorrhagic stroke. Factors related to brain hemorrhages include:
● Trauma such as an accident
● Uncontrolled high blood pressure
● Aneurysms – bulges that develop on the wall of the blood vessels
● An ischemic stroke leading to a hemorrhage
Symptoms of a Stroke
Symptoms of a stroke happen suddenly. Each individual may present the symptoms of a stroke differently.
Symptoms may include:
● Having difficulty speaking or understanding
● Problems with coordination or balance
● A seizure or loss of consciousness
● Numbness or weakness in legs, arms, or face. It usually happens on one side of the body
● Difficulty with ambulation
● Mouth drooping
If you experience any of these symptoms, immediately seek medical assistance.
What are Stroke Risk Factors?
People of any age group can develop a stroke. But the chances may increase if you have some of the stroke risk factors. The risk factors can be managed, while some cannot.
The stroke risk factors that can be managed include:
● High blood pressure
A blood pressure of 140/90 or higher may damage the arteries that supply blood to the brain.
● Cardiac ailments
This is the second most common risk factor of a stroke. Heart diseases are also a common cause of death among stroke survivors. Stroke and heart diseases have many common risk factors among them.
● Sickle Cell Disease (Sickle Cell Anemia)
This genetic disorder mainly affects African-American and Hispanic children and causes “sickled” red blood cells which are less able to carry oxygen to the body’s tissues and organs. These cells also tend to stick to blood vessel walls, which can block arteries to the brain and cause a stroke.
● High blood cholesterol
High cholesterol levels contribute to atherosclerosis (thickening and hardening of the arteries due to plaque buildup). Plaque is developed due to cholesterol, fatty substances, and calcium deposits.
● Illegal drug use
Intravenous drug abuse increases the risk of a stroke from cerebral embolisms (blood clots). Drugs such as cocaine have been linked to many medical complications such as a stroke, heart attack, and other cardiovascular problems.
Stroke risk factors that cannot be controlled are:
Men are at a higher risk of developing a stroke. But women die more often from a stroke than men.
Older people aged 55 years or above have a higher chance of developing a stroke.
The risk of having a stroke is higher in people who have a family history of stroke.
Other stroke risk factors include:
● Season, climate, and temperature
Deaths from stroke occur more commonly during extreme temperatures and climate.
Lifestyle Risk Factors for Stroke
There are several lifestyle risk factors for stroke that you can manage or control. These include:
● Physical inactivity
● Heavy drinking
COVID-19 and Stroke
Studies have shown that COVID-19 is one of the stroke risk factors as well. The tendency for the blood to thicken or get sticky is greater in COVID-19 patients. Thick and sticky blood can block the blood vessels supplying oxygen to the brain, increasing the risk of a stroke.
What complications can arise if a stroke is left untreated?
Depending on how long the blood supply is interrupted to the brain, complications from a stroke can be temporary or permanent.
The complications include:
Numbness, pain, or other unusual sensations may occur in different parts of the body.
The stroke may cause paralysis on one side of your body. You may also lose muscle movement in some parts of the body.
● Behavioral changes
You may feel withdrawn or need help in grooming or daily chores.
How is a Stroke Diagnosed?
The doctor will perform tests to diagnose the stroke. These tests include:
● CT scan
It is an imaging test that takes clear pictures of the brain. A CT scan of the brain can help show the damage caused to the brain cells or bleeding in the brain. It will help find the type and location of the stroke.
Computed tomographic angiography, or CTA, takes X-ray images of the blood vessels. It helps detect damage to the blood vessels.
An MRI scan helps find changes in brain tissue using magnetic fields.
Magnetic resonance angiography, or MRA, helps check the blood flow through the arteries.
What are the treatment options for a Stroke?
The doctor will consider your age, health, type, severity and the cause of the stroke before devising a treatment plan for you. Once the stroke occurs, it cannot be cured. But there are many medical and surgical treatment options available that can reduce the chances of a second stroke.
The treatment options for a stroke include:
● Clot-busting medications
The blood clots caused due to the lack of oxygen are solved using these medicines. They also help reduce the damage caused to the brain. In order to be effective, the medications must be given within three hours of developing a stroke.
● Neuroprotective medications
These medicines help in protecting the brain from lack of oxygen and other damages.
● Medications to reduce brain swelling
Special intravenous fluids are used to help reduce brain swelling. These medications are usually given after a hemorrhagic stroke.
Surgical Treatment Options
● Carotid stenting
A stent (large metal coil) is placed in the carotid artery. It is similar to a stent placed in the coronary artery.
● Carotid endarterectomy
It is a surgical procedure done to remove clots and plaque from the blood vessels. Endarterectomy may help reduce the chances of a second stroke.
It is a type of brain surgery that removes blood clots, relieves pressure, and repairs bleeding in the brain.
A stroke is a medical emergency and must be treated immediately. If not treated on time, it can lead to severe brain damage and future complications. Many of the stroke risk factors can be managed or changed. It may help reduce the chances of developing a second stroke.
Can the brain repair itself after a stroke?
The initial recovery after a stroke is due to decreased swelling and improvement of blood circulation in the brain. The damaged cells that can be repaired will begin to heal itself and function normally. But long term treatment options and rehabilitation are equally important as well.
Can you feel a stroke coming?
There are many warning signs of a stroke. The most important ones include arm weakness, facial droop, and slurred speech. If you experience any of these warning signs, immediately visit a doctor.