Why is a stroke called a brain attack?

A stroke is called a brain attack because the use of the expression brain attack is a way to draw attention to the need for people to seek immediate medical care in the case of a stroke. When it comes to heart attacks (myocardial infarctions), the general public tends to be aware of the importance of getting immediate medical attention. Most people know that immediate care is crucial and can make a difference between life and death.

Dr. Douglas E. Severance, MD
Family Practitioner

Similar to a heart attack, a "brain attack" or stroke is caused when oxygen-rich blood cannot get to cells, often because of a blood clot blocking the artery. As a result, the affected part of the brain can die. A stroke often causes weakness or paralysis of the face, hand, arm, foot or leg. You can have difficulty speaking, loss of feeling in an arm or leg, loss of consciousness, loss of vision, unsteadiness and other serious disabilities from a brain attack.

Heart conditions such as atrial fibrillation increase the risk of a stroke. That's because when the heart beats too fast and out of rhythm, it doesn't efficiently pump all the blood out of its upper chambers, so that the blood pools in there and can form clots that travel to the brain, triggering a stroke. Treating the atrial fibrillation may prevent clots from forming and stave off a brain attack as well as other serious heart conditions.

Some doctors call strokes “brain attacks” because they have a lot in common with heart attacks. A heart attack occurs when an artery that delivers blood to the heart’s muscle becomes blocked. Starved of oxygen- and nutrient-rich blood, the heart tissue begins to die. If treatment isn’t administered fast, the damage can spread and prove fatal.

Exchange a few words (namely brain for heart) and you are describing a stroke. Your brain, like your heart and the rest of your body, runs on the oxygen and nutrients delivered via the blood. The most common form of stroke occurs when a blood vessel in the brain becomes clogged.

A severe stroke can permanently destroy massive numbers of brain cells, resulting in paralysis, speech difficulties and even death. The sooner you get the help of a trained professional at a stroke center (go only to an ER that has a stroke center), the more brain you are likely to save.

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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.