A stroke occurs when part of the brain is deprived of blood — and the oxygen and nutrients it carries. While a stroke is a serious medical emergency, both prevention and treatment methods are more effective today than ever before.
Like every other part of your body, your brain needs adequate blood flow to function, and if that supply of blood is reduced or stopped, the sensitive cells of the brain begin to die. That’s why it’s so important to seek medical care immediately. Prompt treatment of a stroke can help reduce complications and improve your recovery.
Timing is especially important when it comes to stroke treatment. If you notice symptoms in yourself or someone near you, note the time when the symptoms started and get medical help immediately.
Symptoms of a stroke may include the inability to speak normally, difficulty walking, and a sudden and severe headache. Another classic symptom is numbness or paralysis on one side of the body only — typically in the face, arm, or leg. Vomiting and a sense of disorientation are also possible symptoms.
If you think you might be having a stroke, try lifting both arms above your head or smiling in the mirror. If one side of your body is noticeably affected, you should seek immediate medical attention.
A helpful way to remember what to do in case of a possible stroke is to think “FAST,” for Face, Arms, Speech, and Time. These four elements can help you evaluate a person’s symptoms: Is one side of the face unresponsive? Is one arm weak? Is the person’s speech hard to understand? What time did these symptoms start?
If you suspect that someone is having a stroke, even if the symptoms seem to go away, call 911 immediately.
Ischemic stroke. The most common kind of stroke occurs when blood flow to the brain is severely reduced due to a narrowing of the arteries. This is called an ischemic stroke. High cholesterol, hypertension, and diabetes can increase your risk of this kind of stroke, which may also occur if a blood clot or cholesterol enters the blood vessels of the brain.
TIA. A transient ischemic attack, or TIA, involves neurologic symptoms (such as slurred speech or numbness in the face) that last for a short time and then seem to go away. If you or someone near you seems to be having a TIA, it’s important to seek medical attention promptly because these events often precede ischemic strokes.
Hemorrhagic stroke. The other major type of stroke is a hemorrhagic stroke, which involves internal bleeding, often as a result of uncontrolled high blood pressure or trauma (injury). Other factors that may contribute to this kind of stroke include the overuse of blood thinners and weak blood vessel walls. Sometimes an ischemic stroke leads to a hemorrhagic stroke.
Health issues like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, atherosclerosis, and obstructive sleep apnea can all contribute to your risk of having a stroke. Heavy drinking, poor nutrition, and a sedentary lifestyle are also risk factors. However, treatment and prevention have dramatically improved over the years, and experiencing a stroke is less common today than in the past.
The way a stroke is treated depends on the type of stroke as well as on how quickly you are able to receive medical care. Treatment of an ischemic stroke focuses on restoring blood flow to the brain and might involve intravenous (IV) medication or a surgical procedure to remove a blockage. The goal of hemorrhagic stroke treatment is to stop the bleeding and reduce the pressure in the brain, which often requires a combination of surgery and medication.
At Manhattan Cardiovascular Associates, our main focus is preventing strokes. We are experts at uncovering and diagnosing risk factors that can be treated, significantly reducing your chances of ever having a stroke.
Most strokes are preventable.