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What is a stroke?

Diana Meeks
Diana Meeks on behalf of Sigma Nursing
Family Practitioner

When an artery in the brain either bursts or has a blockage, it causes a stroke. There are two types of strokes. Hemorrhagic strokes result from bleeding inside the brain, which may occur if a blood vessel or aneurysm (a swelling in an artery) ruptures. Ischemic strokes, which are the most common type of strokes, result when a blood clot causes a reduction in blood flow in the brain. Strokes are a medical emergency and require quick treatment.

A stroke happens when there’s a problem with blood flow to some parts of the brain. This is because blood vessels either become blocked or burst. The blockage can be caused by a build-up of fat and clots on a blood vessel wall. When there’s a blockage, little or no blood can get through.

A stroke can also happen when blood vessels burst. If the blood pressure is too high, it pushes on the vessel walls, which over time makes them thin and weak. Blood then leaks out and not enough blood gets to where it needs to go. Without blood, brain cells don’t get the oxygen they need to do their jobs. This means that everything slows down. The brain controls the body, so if the brain can’t work properly then the body can’t work properly either.

Dr. Nicholas D Suite
Neurologist

Stroke is the sudden or gradual loss of blood flow to an area of the brain, causing damage to the brain that can almost always be seen on brain imaging such as a CAT scan or MRI. Stroke is caused by a blockage of blood flow into or out of the brain. It can also be due to a sudden rupture (breakage) of a blood vessel in the brain.

Prevention of stroke is possible by controlling high blood pressure, carefully managing diabetes, avoidance of smoking, lowering of cholesterol, being aware of any family history of stroke, and avoiding any activities that might put one at risk for stroke, e.g. drugs.

A stroke happens when a blood vessel carrying oxygen and nutrients to the brain is either blocked by a clot (ischemic stroke) or ruptures (hemorrhagic stroke). When this occurs, part of the brain no longer receives the oxygen it needs, and the tissue in that area starts to die.

You can have a stroke at any age. More than 25% of stroke victims are under 65. However, for every decade after age 55, your risk for stroke increases by 10%.

Transient ischemic attacks (TIAs) consist of stroke-like symptoms, which go away shortly after starting and produce no lasting damage. Even if your symptoms disappear entirely, it is critical that you follow up with a healthcare professional to address your risk for future stroke.

If you have the sudden onset of the worst headache of your life or the sudden onset of neurological symptoms, call 911 and get to a hospital immediately.

A stroke must be accurately diagnosed by the hospital's emergency department to determine the appropriate treatment. Some stroke treatments have to be given within just several hours of the stroke's onset for best success. Time is of the essence.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.