Strokes: What They Are, What to Look For, and How to Reduce Your Risk

A stroke, also known as transient ischemic attack or cerebrovascular accident, happens when blood flow to the brain is blocked.

Each year, nearly 800,000 people suffer from a stroke. Strokes are among the leading causes of disability in the country and are a leading cause of death as well. Victims who survive a stroke often find themselves with permanent disabilities, including paralysis, loss of speech, and memory problems.

Strokes: What They Are, What to Look For, and How to Reduce Your Risk
A stroke, also known as transient ischemic attack or cerebrovascular accident, happens when blood flow to the brain is blocked. Image/Pixabay

In this blog post, we will talk about a stroke, the different kinds of strokes, the warning signs and symptoms of a stroke, what conditions may be mistaken for a stroke, and how to reduce your risk of having one.

What is a Stroke?

A stroke happens when a blockage cuts blood flow to the brain. This might happen if a blood vessel bursts or a clot obstructs an artery. When the blood supply is cut off by anything, the brain cells are deprived of oxygen and begin to die. A stroke can cause serious damage to the brain and may lead to paralysis, speech problems, cognitive decline, and even death. Stroke risk factors include high blood pressure, diabetes, and smoking.

Treatment for a stroke typically includes medication and rehabilitation. The rehabilitation process may include physical therapy, occupational therapy, and speech therapy. The sooner a stroke is treated, the better the chances of recovery, and early treatment can reduce the risk of long-term complications.

Different Types of Strokes

Of the two main types of strokes — ischemic and hemorrhagic — ischemic strokes are by far the most common. They occur when a blockage (usually a clot) prevents blood from flowing to the brain. On the other hand, hemorrhagic strokes happen when a blood vessel in the brain bursts. While ischemic strokes are more common, hemorrhagic strokes are often more deadly.

1. Ischemic Strokes

There are several different types of ischemic stroke, each with its own unique set of causes and risk factors. The most common type is thrombotic stroke, which happens when a clot builds in an artery that supplies the brain with blood. When this happens, the blood flow to the brain is cut off, and brain cells begin to die.

An embolic stroke is a less common but more dangerous type of ischemic stroke. An embolic stroke happens when a clot forms in a different part of the body, like the heart. Then, the clot makes its way up to the brain. These clots are often small enough to pass through the narrowest parts of the arteries, and they can cause significant damage when they reach the brain.

The last type of ischemic stroke is called a lacunar stroke. This happens when small arteries in the brain become blocked, usually by a buildup of fatty deposits. Lacunar strokes are often associated with high blood pressure, and they can lead to a slow, steady decline in cognitive function.

2. Hemorrhagic Strokes

The two most common types of hemorrhagic strokes are intracerebral bleeding and subarachnoid bleeding. When a blood vessel in the brain ruptures, intracerebral hemorrhage occurs, causing blood to trickle into the brain. This can happen due to a number of different conditions, including high blood pressure, aneurysms, and trauma.

Subarachnoid hemorrhage is a less common but more dangerous type of hemorrhagic stroke. It happens when blood leaks into the space around the brain, causing severe damage. This can happen due to a number of different conditions, including aneurysms, head injury, and cerebral amyloid angiopathy.

The last type of hemorrhagic stroke is called cerebral venous thrombosis. This happens when a blood clot forms in the veins that drain blood from the brain. This can happen due to numerous different conditions, including dehydration, head injury, and pregnancy.

Cerebral venous thrombosis is a less common but more harmful type of hemorrhagic stroke. It happens when a blood clot forms in the veins that drain blood from the brain. This can happen due to a number of different conditions, including dehydration, head injury, and pregnancy.

Warning Signs and Symptoms of a Stroke

A stroke is a severe medical emergency. When the brain doesn’t get the oxygen it needs, it begins to die. That’s why it’s crucial to be aware of the warning signs and symptoms of a stroke so that you can act quickly if you or someone else experiences them. The most common symptom of a stroke is sudden weakness or paralysis on one side. This is often accompanied by:

  • Loss of feeling
  • Vision problems
  • Difficulty speaking
  • Dizziness
  • Severe headache

Someone suffering a stroke may also lose consciousness or have a seizure, although this typically happens after a stroke victim survives. If you experience any of these symptoms, it’s important to call 911 immediately and get to a hospital. Time is critical when it comes to stroke treatment, and every minute counts. By being aware of the warning signs, life could be saved.

Conditions That Can Be Mistaken for a Stroke

Especially if it has never happened to you, strokes can sometimes be hard to identify. That is why it is so important to know what conditions may be mistaken for a stroke. These include:

  • Migraine
  • Seizure
  • Transient ischemic attack (TIA)
  • Hypoglycemia
  • Panic attack

While migraines and seizures can cause some of the same physical symptoms as a stroke, such as weakness or paralysis, they typically do not last as long as a stroke. A TIA is often called a “mini-stroke” because it causes similar symptoms but lasts for a much shorter period of time. However, it should still be taken seriously as it can be a warning sign of an impending stroke.

Hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar, can also cause symptoms that mimic those of a stroke, such as confusion and dizziness. Panic attacks can cause chest pain, shortness of breath, and heart palpitations, all of which are also common in strokes. Severe panic attacks can also cause:

  • Numbness or tingling
  • Dizziness
  • Sweating
  • Vision impairment
  • Muscle spasms and convulsions

If you experience any of these symptoms, it is still critical to seek medical attention to make the proper diagnosis.

How to Reduce Your Risk of Having a Stroke

A stroke is a severe and sometimes life-threatening medical emergency. A stroke occurs when the brain’s blood supply is interrupted. This is usually because of a blocked artery. In many cases, strokes can cause the death of brain cells and lead to paralysis, speech problems, and other damage. There are many things you can do to reduce your risk of having a stroke, including:

  • Eating a healthy diet that is low in salt and fat and high in fruits and vegetables.
  • Exercising regularly
  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Quit smoking (if you currently smoke)
  • Limiting alcohol consumption
  • Managing stress levels

If you practice regular self-care and maintain a healthy lifestyle, your stroke risk will be significantly reduced. By being proactive about your health, you can prevent strokes before they happen.

If you have any risk factors for stroke, such as high blood pressure or diabetes, it is especially important to take steps to reduce your risk. Talk to your doctor about what you can do to reduce your stroke risk.

Endnote

A stroke is an extreme medical emergency that can be life-threatening. It is vital to be aware of the warning signs and symptoms of a stroke so that you can act quickly if you or someone else experiences them. If you experience any of these symptoms or think you are having a stroke, it is critical to call 911 immediately and get to a hospital. When treating a stroke, time is of the essence.

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Dr. Sarah Brewer, MSc, MA, RN

Dr. Sarah Brewer is qualified from Cambridge University with degrees in Natural Sciences, Medicine, and Surgery. She is an award-winnin

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