Information about stroke for patients and families
What’s a stroke?Stroke is the third leading cause of death and the leading cause of adult disability in the U.S. It occurs when a blood vessel carrying oxygen and nutrients to the brain bursts or is blocked by a clot. As a result, the brain cannot get the blood and oxygen it requires and brain cells die.
Stroke risk factorsApproximately 80% of strokes can be prevented. Though some risk factors are uncontrollable, such as age and race, others are in your hands. Making small lifestyle changes, like eating healthy and exercising regularly, can reduce your stroke risk. The American Heart Association identifies seven factors you can control for ideal health (Life’s Simple 7): be active, control cholesterol, eat a healthy diet, manage blood pressure, maintain a healthy weight, control blood sugar and don’t smoke.
Signs and symptoms of strokeToo often people don’t recognize when a stroke is happening, and that can cost critical time. It’s crucial to recognize the signs and call 911 or get to the emergency room immediately. Timing and proper treatment can mean the all the difference.
Warning signs of stroke:
- Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arms or leg, especially on one side
- Sudden confusion, trouble speaking and/or understanding
- Sudden trouble seeing out of one or both eyes
- Sudden trouble walking, loss of balance or dizziness
- Sudden, severe headache with unknown cause
Types of stroke:
- Ischemic stroke occurs when a clot or mass clogs a blood vessel cutting off the blood flow to brain cells — 87% stroke cases
- Hemorrhagic stroke results from a weakened vessel that ruptures and bleeds into the brain tissue causing a bruise and compressing and killing brain cells
- TIA or Transient Ischemic Attack produces stroke-like symptoms and is caused by a clot — the blockage is temporary and usually causes no permanent damage to the brain. Often called “mini-strokes,” approximately 15% of all strokes occur after a TIA, so treat it as a medical emergency!
What are the effects of stroke?The brain is an extremely complex organ that controls various body functions. If a stroke occurs and blood flow can’t reach the region that controls a particular body function, that part of the body just can’t work properly.
If the stroke occurs toward the back of the brain, it’s likely that you’ll have some disability with your vision. The effects of a stroke depend on the location of the obstruction and the extent of brain tissue affected.
Right brainBecause one side of the brain controls the opposite side of the body, various outcomes are experienced. If the stroke occurs on the brain’s right side, the left side of the body and face will be affected with neurological deficits, which could produce any or all of the following:
- Paralysis and sensory changes on the left side of the body
- Vision problems
- Quick, inquisitive behavioral style
- Memory loss
- Neglect of the left side
Left brainIf the stroke occurs in the left side of the brain, the right side of the body will be affected, producing some or all of the following:
- Paralysis and sensory changes on the right side of the body
- Speech/language problems
- Slow, cautious behavioral style
- Memory loss
Brain stemWhen stroke occurs in the brain stem, it can affect both sides of the body and may leave someone in a locked-in state. When this occurs, speech or movement below the neck is generally gone.
How is life affected by a stroke?There are many physical challenges that commonly occur after stroke such as paralysis, seizures, muscle tightness and stiffness (spasticity), fatigue and more.
Additionally, it can affect speech, language, reading and writing, in addition to your mood and outlook on life. Brain injuries also produce chemical changes that can have significant effects on the brain. So again, please seek immediate help if you’re experiencing stroke-like symptoms!