Definition of a Stroke

A stroke refers to blood flow to an area of the brain being impeded, depriving that area of the brain of oxygen and nutrients. This is a medical emergency requiring immediate medical attention. Brain cells may begin to suffer severe damage within minutes of reduced blood flow. If action is not taken quickly, the patient may suffer permanent brain damage or even death.

There are two types of strokes that may affect a patient. An ischemic stroke affects the brain much like a heart attack affects the heart, leading to strokes occasionally being referred to as “brain attacks.” During an ischemic stroke, a blood clot or plaque collection prevents blood from flowing into the brain. Ischemic strokes account for roughly 80% of strokes. The remaining approximate 20% of strokes are hemorrhagic. A hemorrhagic stroke occurs when a blood vessel in the brain ruptures, causing blood to seep into nearby brain tissue, damaging brain cells. These types of strokes are most often caused by high blood pressure or aneurysm, which is a weakening of the walls of a blood vessel.

There are common symptoms of a stroke, regardless of which type of stroke. These symptoms may include:

  • Weakness or numbness on one side of the body, particularly in the face, arm, or leg

  • Loss or dimming of vision in one or both eyes

  • Loss of speech, difficulty speaking, or difficulty understanding others’ speech

  • Unexplained sudden severe headache

  • Loss of balance 

As many as 50% of strokes are preventable. Risk factors that are under a patient’s control include untreated high blood pressure, uncontrolled diabetes, high cholesterol, smoking, obesity, excessive alcohol consumption, and untreated coronary artery disease. Additionally, advanced age and family history increase a person’s likelihood of having a stroke. Men are more likely to have strokes than women, but women are more likely to die from a stroke. Black patients are more likely to have strokes than patients of other races.

If you or somebody you know is having symptoms that may indicate a stroke, call an ambulance immediately. Immediate treatment may not only limit potential brain damage, it may very well save a life.


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