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What is a stroke?

A stroke occurs when a blood vessel in the brain ruptures and bleeds, or when there’s a blockage in the blood supply to the brain. The rupture or blockage prevents blood and oxygen from reaching the brain’s tissues.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), stroke is the fifth-leading cause of death in the United States. Every year, more than 795,000 U.S. people have a stroke.

Without oxygen, brain cells and tissue become damaged and begin to die within minutes. Check out exactly how stroke effects the body.

The loss of blood flow to the brain damages tissues within the brain. Symptoms of a stroke show up in the body parts controlled by the damaged areas of the brain.

The sooner a person having a stroke gets care, the better their outcome is likely to be. For this reason, it’s helpful to know the signs of a stroke so you can act quickly. Stroke symptoms can include:

  • paralysis
  • numbness or weakness in the arm, face, and leg, especially on one side of the body
  • trouble speaking or understanding speech
  • confusion
  • slurring speech
  • vision problems, such as trouble seeing in one or both eyes with vision blackened or blurred, or double vision
  • trouble walking
  • loss of balance or coordination
  • dizziness
  • severe, sudden headache with an unknown cause

A stroke requires immediate medical attention. If you think you or someone else is having a stroke, have someone call 911 right away. Prompt treatment is key to preventing the following outcomes:

  • brain damage
  • long-term disability
  • death

It’s better to be safe than sorry when dealing with a stroke, so don’t be afraid to call 911 if you think you recognize the signs of a stroke. Act FAST and learn to recognize the signs of stroke.

Stroke is the fourth-leading cause of death in U.S. women. Women have a higher lifetime risk of having a stroke than men.

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While some stroke signs are the same in women and men, some are more common in women.

Stroke signs that occur more often in women include:

  • nausea or vomiting
  • hallucination
  • pain
  • general weakness
  • shortness of breath or trouble breathing
  • fainting or losing consciousness
  • seizures
  • confusion, disorientation, or lack of responsiveness
  • sudden behavioral changes, especially increased agitation

Women are more likely than men to die from a stroke, so it’s important to be able to identify a stroke as soon as possible. Learn more about recognizing the signs of stroke in women.

Stroke is the fifth-leading cause of death in men. Men are more likely to have a stroke in their younger years than women, but they’re less likely to die from it, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Men and women can have some of the same signs and symptoms of stroke (see above). However, some stroke symptoms occur more often in men. These include:

  • drooping on one side of the face or an uneven smile
  • slurred speech, difficulty speaking, and trouble understanding other speech
  • arm weakness or muscle weakness on one side of the body

While some symptoms may differ between men and women, it’s equally important for both to be able to spot a stroke early and get help. Learn more about the signs of a stroke in men.

Strokes fall into three main categories: transient ischemic attack (TIA), ischemic stroke, and hemorrhagic stroke. These categories are further broken down into other types of strokes, including:

  • embolic stroke
  • thrombotic stroke
  • intracerebral stroke
  • subarachnoid stroke

The type of stroke you have affects your treatment and recovery process. Read more about the different types of strokes.

During an ischemic stroke, the arteries supplying blood to the brain narrow or become blocked. These blockages are caused by blood clots or blood flow that’s severely reduced. They can also be caused by pieces of plaque due to atherosclerosis breaking off and blocking a blood vessel.

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The two most common types of ischemic strokes are thrombotic and embolic. A thrombotic stroke happens when a blood clot forms in one of the arteries supplying blood to the brain. The clot passes through the bloodstream and becomes lodged, which blocks blood flow. An embolic stroke is when a blood clot or other debris forms in another part of the body and then travels to the brain.

According to the CDC, 87 percent of strokes are ischemic strokes. Find out why ischemic strokes occur.

An embolic stroke is one of two types of ischemic strokes. It occurs when a blood clot forms in another part of the body — often the heart or arteries in the upper chest and neck — and moves through the bloodstream to the brain. The clot gets stuck in the brain’s arteries, where it stops the flow of blood and causes a stroke.

An embolic stroke may be the result of a heart condition. Atrial fibrillation, a common type of irregular heartbeat, can cause blood clots to develop in the heart. These clots may dislodge and travel through the bloodstream and into the brain. Read more about how embolic strokes occur and the symptoms they can cause.

A hemorrhagic stroke happens when an artery in the brain breaks open or leaks blood. The blood from that artery creates excess pressure in the skull and swells the brain, damaging brain cells and tissues.

The two types of hemorrhagic strokes are intracerebral and subarachnoid. An intracerebral hemorrhagic stroke, the most common type of hemorrhagic stroke, happens when the tissues surrounding the brain fill with blood after an artery bursts. The subarachnoid hemorrhagic stroke is less common. It causes bleeding in the area between the brain and the tissues…

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