What is a Stroke?
A stroke is a medical emergency in which something prevents one part of the brain from getting the blood it needs to function. Also known as a “brain attack” or cerebrovascular accident (CVA), a stroke can cause long-term disability or even death.
Strokes are relatively common – every year, more than 795,000 people in the United States have a stroke, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Nearly one in four of these strokes are people who have had a previous stroke.
Your brain controls all of the body’s functions. Different parts of your brain control different functions. If a stroke damages the part of the brain that controls your right leg, for example, you may have numbness or weakness in that leg. Specific parts of your brain also control how you think, feel, learn and communicate, so a stroke in any of those areas can affect the way your brain processes thinking, emotions, learning and communication.
When you have a stroke, part of your brain does not get enough oxygen-rich blood. Starved of oxygen, brain cells can suffer damage or even die.
What Causes a Stroke?
There are three main types of strokes, and each has a different cause. The type of stroke someone has affects treatment and recovery.
An ischemic stroke happens when a blood clot or something else blocks blood flow through an artery that delivers oxygen-rich blood to the brain. Ischemic strokes are the most common type of CVA.
This type of stroke occurs when an artery in the brain breaks open (ruptures) or leaks blood. The leaked blood exerts pressure on the brain, which can damage brain cells. A number of conditions can cause hemorrhagic stroke, including high blood pressure and aneurysms, which are balloon-like bulges in the artery.
Transient ischemic attack (TIA)
Also known as a “mini stroke,” a TIA is different from ischemic and hemorrhagic strokes in that blood flow is blocked for just a few minutes; signs and symptoms of a TIA typically go away quickly. A TIA is a warning sign of a future stroke, and is a serious medical emergency that requires immediate care.
While you cannot always prevent strokes, you can reduce your risk for having one by taking certain actions, such as:
- Treating high blood pressure
- Treating diabetes if you have it
- Treating high cholesterol
- Quitting smoking
- Seeing your PCP regularly
Best Treatment for Strokes
Strokes require medical care immediately to restore blood flow to the brain before tissue dies. Emergency treatment involves intravenous (IV) medication that breaks down clots to minimize brain damage. Other treatments focus on limiting complications and preventing future strokes.
Neurologists play an important role in the diagnosis and treatment of strokes. Using diagnostic imaging and other tests, neurologists can pinpoint the area of the brain affected by stroke and suggest treatment options.
In some cases, people who have had strokes require long-term recovery care. Neurologists also play a role in this care, and can help patients avoid having subsequent strokes.
For more information about strokes, consult with our neurology team at New England Neurological Associates, P.C.