What is a Stroke?

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This month has been the Stroke Awareness Month and many organizations around the world have been mandating a mission to educate people about being aware of the signs of a stroke, the preventative measures and how to deal with life after surviving a stroke. In fact, the World Stroke Organisation has aptly focused on this year’s theme, #UpAndAgainAfterStroke to help stroke survivors and care-givers. In this post, I would like to give you a brief idea on what is a stroke, how does it occur and how can you raise awareness among your family members or your community and do your bit toward better health!

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It’s interesting how many people I have come across do no have the slightest clue on what a stroke really is. For starters, some of my friends did not even know it as a medical term. On the contrary, many know what a heart attack is and how in such a situation one needs to act quickly by bringing the patient to medical care within the least amount of time. However, only a few know how time is also most essential for a patient who has suffered a stroke because once the symptoms start manifesting, the patient requires medical attention as millions of brain cells are dying in seconds’ time.

What is a Stroke?

In simple terms, cutting off the supply of blood to the brain cells or starving them of their nutrients leads to what is known as a stroke. And just like a heart attack, a stroke can be alternatively known as a brain attack.

Symptoms to Look Out For

Remember the acronym F.A.S.T. which stands for: Face, Arm, Speech & Time and ask for the follwoing questions:

Sometimes, patients may have most of the above symptoms or may be just one of them. Either ways, better safe than sorry: if you see a person experiencing any of these symptoms do not hesitate getting the person into an ambulance to the nearest hospital. Make sure you dial the local number of the ambulance.

Treatment

If a person who is suffering of a stroke has been brought to the emergency room within 3 hours of the start of the symptoms, a life-saving treatment is available which may dissolve the clot and all it requires is to be injected into the blood stream.

Causes of Stroke

Stroke could occur by the following:

#1  Complete Blockage of an Artery 

This could be caused when there is a blood clot that could either have traveled from elsewhere or formed in situ that may block blood from flowing across into the brain. The brain has a network of arteries that originate from the heart and these blood vessels help in supplying nutrition to the brain cells.

#2  Narrowing of a Blood Vessel 

As complicated as it may sound, narrowing of the blood vessel simply means that the inner region of the vessel may have deposition of fat by a process called atherosclerosis – a process happening over the years that may reduce the circumference of the blood vessels thereby constricting the blood flow. In worst cases, this may further lead to complete blockage by clot formation in that region. 

#3  An Artery that has Ruptured

In most cases, this occurs when an individual may be prone to high blood pressure (Hypertensive) and in few people this could be due to aneurysms or a bulbular structure that occurs on the external vessel wall . The ruptured artery then bleeds into the cranial cavity or the region inside the skull where the brain tissue is and apply pressure to other regions of the brain cells literally choking them to death.

What are the Types of Strokes?

Now you know the different ways a stroke can occur you must know that these are termed as different types of stroke.

TIA

Or a Transient Ischemic Attack. It is usually known as a warning sign of a future occurrence of stroke. It involves the temporary loss of neurological function mostly as a result of a small blocking substance that temporarily cuts of the blood supply to the brain. This is usually resolved within 3 hours

Ischemic Stroke 

80% of the strokes that happen are usually ischemic strokes. This is caused when a block of blood supply due to a clot (thrombus) or an emboli (blockage-causing piece of material) leads to the death of cells in a region of the brain. This is called ischemia. Ischemic stroke may be caused due to various factors. It could be due to the clot travelling from the heart or due to the narrowing of the vessel (atherosclerosis). It can also be caused as a result of a tear in the blood vessel in the brain or due to inflammation in the blood vessel.

Hemorrhagic Stroke

As mentioned earlier, a stroke can occur if there is bleeding inside the skull. This type of stroke is called a hemorrhagic stroke. The bleeding from this stroke can put pressure on the neighboring tissues and cause cell death.

Risk Factors

Easier said though, there are many risk factors or causes that may lead to a stroke. Some of the medical risk factors are given below:

  • Hypertension or high blood pressure
  • Diabetes or high blood sugar level
  • Heart Diseases
  • Atrial Fibrillation
  • High cholesterol levels
  • Previous history of Stroke or a TIA

There are certain habitual risk factors that can lead to a stroke too:

  • Smoking
  • Alcohol abuse
  • Physical inactivity

How can you make sure that you or your loved on may not suffer from a stroke? The quintessential thing to do would be to keep a check on these risk factors. For instance, to ensure that blood pressure is within the normal limit, it is good to monitor your BP with a local physician. The same goes for monitoring blood sugar to ensure you are not diabetic or your cholesterol levels are within the normal limits. It is worth conducting routine tests such FBS, PPBS and a lipid profile at least once in a month depending on your age and the risk factors you already have. Quitting smoking, alcohol intake and making the decision to exercise would help cut down on the risk of stroke to more than half.