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Understanding Stroke or Brain Attack: Overview of symptoms and causes

Dr. Ajay KohliOct 18, 2022

A Stroke, or a "brain attack," impacts individuals and their families on the personal, economic, and emotional levels. It is a common condition among the elderly, but it can strike anyone at any time.  Even so, Stroke is preventable and paying enough attention to the risk factors and various Stroke warning symptoms can save lives. Read ahead to know more.

Stroke or Brain Attack

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What is a Stroke?

A Stroke is a potentially fatal medical condition in which the blood supply to the brain fails, preventing the brain from receiving oxygen and nutrients from the blood. As a result, certain parts of the brain experience oxygen deprivation, causing brain cells to die within minutes. When that happens, people's ability to think, remember, control emotions, move, speak, and see things degrade. In some instances, a severe Stroke may even lead to paralysis or death.

Rupturing and leaking of the artery in the brain can also trigger a Stroke, causing extensive brain damage with long-term physical and mental disabilities.

Signs and symptoms of Stroke

The type of Stroke and the part of the brain that's affected typically determines Stroke symptoms, which may vary from person to person. Most symptoms appear out of the blue without warning but can develop over a period of hours or days. Therefore, recognising the warning signs of Stroke is essential. Some tell-tale symptoms you shouldn't miss are as follows.

  • Trouble in speaking or understanding speech

  • Unexpected numbness or weakness on one side of the face, arm, or leg

  • Visual impairment in one or both eyes

  • Trouble in focusing

  • Unexplained dizziness 

  • Problems with balance and coordination

  • Abrupt onset of severe headaches without a known cause

Other possible danger signs of Stroke that you should watch for are as follows.

  • Nausea 

  • Vomiting

  • Seizures

  • Drowsiness

People may sometimes experience a "mini-Stroke" or Transient Ischemic Attack (TIA), where the blood supply to the brain is temporarily obstructed, with symptoms vanishing in minutes. While this condition has no associated long-lasting brain issues, it is a warning sign for a possible future Stroke and must be treated as a neurological emergency. 

What causes a Stroke?

Strokes are usually caused by two main reasons: a blockage in a major blood vessel or sudden bleeding in the brain. However, some people may have a third reason—a Transient Ischemic Attack (TIA), where the blood flow to the brain is temporarily disrupted, and symptoms last a few minutes to less than 24 hours. Nearly 40 per cent of people with a TIA will go on to have an actual Stroke. 

About 80% of Strokes are due to blocked arteries in the brain, which arise when:

  • a clot forms within a brain or neck artery (thrombosis) 

  • a clot travels to the brain (embolism) 

  • a clot gets clogged in an area where a brain artery has been narrowed by fatty deposits known as plaque (stenosis)

Strokes caused by bleeding in the brain are relatively rare but happen when someone has high blood pressure, making the blood vessels clog or swell to burst easily. Such a condition can cause irreparable damage to brain tissues, leading to severe neurologic complications or death.  

Types of Strokes

Stroke is classified into two types based on the ways they affect the brain:

  1. Ischemic Stroke: This is the most frequent type of Stroke, which occurs when a blood artery supplying the brain becomes narrowed or obstructed due to the deposition of fatty deposits or the formation of blood clots. Ischemic Stroke is treatable and preventable in most cases.

  2. Haemorrhagic Stroke:  This arises when a blood vessel that supplies the brain ruptures and starts to bleed. Consequently, the pressure builds in the nearby tissues leading to swelling and severe brain damage. Death occurs when you fail to receive speedy treatment. 

Treatment of Stroke

Stroke treatment is time-sensitive and must be administered within a specific period. To prevent the immediate progress and recurrence of the Stroke, your doctor will mostly prescribe a combination of medications, depending on your Stroke type, its underlying causes, and the part of the brain that's affected.

For an Ischemic Stroke, the treatment will focus on restoring blood flow to the brain by injecting a clot buster called Tissue Plasminogen Activator (TPA) that breaks up the blood clots. When given within three hours after the onset of Stroke symptoms, TPA increases the likelihood of Stroke recovery in patients. In severe ischemic cases, however, surgery is the only support to remove blood clots, especially from larger brain arteries.

 In Haemorrhagic Stroke, patients may receive blood pressure and cholesterol-lowering medications to stop the bleeding and save brain tissue. But if bleeding is stemmed from a ruptured blood vessel or an aneurysm, surgery may be required to repair or seal it. 

Diagnosis of Stroke

If you're suspected of having a Stroke, your doctor will ask for medical history and conduct a physical examination. They may also order imaging tests such as CT scans and MRIs if your physical symptoms correspond to Stroke to determine any irregularities or blockage in the main blood vessels. On occasion, blood tests and an electrocardiogram are additionally done to rule out the possibility of other health conditions that could lead to Stroke, like diabetes, hypertension, or atrial fibrillation in the heart.

How can I prevent Strokes?

Some things that you can implement to lessen the effect of risks are as follows.

  • Exercise 5 days a week for 30 to 40 minutes.

  • Eat a high-fibre, low-fat diet containing fresh fruits and veggies rather than salty processed food.

  • Stop smoking.

  • Cut down on alcohol intake. 

  • Maintain a healthy weight, preferably within the body mass index (BMI).

  • Take your prescribed medications for blood pressure, cholesterol, heart problems, and diabetes as instructed by your doctor. 

  • Keep your blood pressure close to 120/80 mm of Hg.

Risk factors for Stroke

Stroke can occur to anyone, regardless of age. However, some factors can increase one's risk of Stroke more than others. Among these factors, a few you can control and others you can't, such as age, gender, family history, race, and ethnicity.  

Some other risk factors that can be managed or treated to reduce your likelihood of Stroke are as follows.

  • High blood pressure

  • High cholesterol and lipids 

  • Diabetes

  • Cigarette smoking 

  • Heavy or binge alcohol drinking 

  • Use of illegal drugs

  • Physical inactivity and being overweight

  • Arterial malformation 

  • History of TIA 

If you feel you have a high risk of a Stroke, talk to your doctor to learn about preventative measures that reduce the possibility of Stroke-related injury or death.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Here’s a list of common questions and answers about Stroke.

What are five warning signs of Stroke I should know about?

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According to the American Stroke Association, to spot the warning signs of Stroke, use FAST i.e.

F: Face drooping

A: Arm weakness

S: Speech difficulty

T: Time to call medical assistance

Other symptoms that you should know are as follows.

  • Sudden numbness on the face, arm, or leg of one side of the body

  • Sudden confusion while talking or understanding speech

  • Sudden trouble in seeing from one or both eyes

  • Sudden problem in walking due to dizziness, loss of balance, or coordination

  • Sudden severe headache with no identified cause

Which exercises should I do to avoid Strokes?

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Experts believe regular exercise can lessen the risk of having a Stroke by increasing the health of your blood vessels and mitigating the impact of certain risk factors, such as high blood pressure and obesity. You can do cardiovascular and aerobic workouts, as well as some yoga asanas, to reduce fat deposits and boost blood flow to the brain.

What can I do to help prevent a Stroke?

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Identify your Stroke risk factors as early as possible to manage or change them efficiently. When you implement all recommended techniques, your chance of having Strokes reduces by 75%. Whereas if a person has two or more identified Stroke risk factors, the likelihood of a Stroke increases substantially.

How long does it take to recover from a Stroke?

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After a Stroke, most patients will need some form of rehabilitation to help them regain movement and independence. The recovery timeline for each Stroke patient varies, depending on the symptoms and severity of the Stroke. Some Stroke patients recover relatively faster, but if the Stroke or the related complications are severe, recovery can take months or years.

What is the treatment for Stroke?

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In addition to drugs and surgery, long-term Stroke treatment typically includes physical therapies that are given to assist in speedy brain recovery and encourage surviving brain cells to take over the activities of dead or injured cells. This indicates that the brain must readapt and relearn diverse skills. While recovery often can take weeks to months, a person's speech, motor, and sensory skills can be steadily recovered with the right amount of personalised rehab plans.

References

Disclaimer: The content on this page is generic and shared only for informational and explanatory purposes. Please consult a doctor before making any health-related decisions.

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