According to the American Heart Association, about 700,000 Americans will have a stroke each year – that’s someone every 45 seconds. Stroke is the third leading cause of death in the United States and a primary cause of serious disability.
Stroke is the sudden death of brain cells resulting from an interruption of blood flow to the brain. Blood flow to the brain tissue can be interrupted in two ways:
- The vessel clogs within (ischemic stroke).
- The vessel ruptures, causing blood to leak into the brain (hemorrhagic stroke).
The longer the brain is deprived of oxygen-rich blood the worse the damage. Victims of stroke often lose control of major functions such as speech, movement, and memory.
Typical stroke symptoms may include:
- Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm, or leg, especially on one side of the body.
- Sudden confusion, difficulty speaking, or difficulty understanding.
- Sudden difficulty seeing in one or both eyes.
- Sudden difficulty walking, dizziness, loss of balance, or loss of coordination.
- Sudden severe headache with no known cause.
Other less common symptoms include:
- Sudden nausea, fever, and vomiting , distinguished from viral illness by the speed of onset (minutes vs. several hours or days).
- Brief loss of consciousness or a period of decreased consciousness (fainting, confusion, convulsions, or coma).
An emergency room doctor will examine you to assess your condition and try to determine what caused the stroke. In addition to conducting a complete neurological evaluation, the doctor may request any or all of the following diagnostic tests to determine the extent of damage and a course of treatment:
- Brain imaging tests (computerized tomography scan; or magnetic resonance imaging) to understand the type, location, and extent of the stroke.
- Carotid and transcranial ultrasound and angiography tests to evaluate blood flow and bleeding sites.
- Blood tests to check for bleeding or clotting disorders.
- Electrocardiogram (EKG) or an ultrasound examination (echocardiogram) of the heart to identify cardiac sources of blood clots that could travel to the brain.
- A mental status examination (MSE) or other tests to measure cognitive function.
Treatment varies depending on the cause of the stroke and the amount of time the brain has been deprived of blood. For example, the FDA-approved clot-busting drug tPA can be a very successful course of treatment for victims of ischemic stroke. Unfortunately, the drug must be administered within three hours of the attack and only 3-5% of all stroke victims get to a hospital within that critical window.
- For patients with severe blockage of a carotid artery, your doctor might also recommend a surgery called carotid endarterectomy or the placement of a carotid artery stent. This procedure removes deposits in the carotid arteries in your neck.
- It’s important for patients to take measures to reduce their risk of a recurrence. These measures might include eating a heart-healthy diet and taking medications. Antiplatelet agents such as aspirin, and anticoagulants such as warfarin interfere with the blood’s ability to clot and can play an important role in preventing a recurrence.
- Stroke survivors must undergo rehabilitation to regain as many lost functions as possible. While most recovery occurs during the first few months following a stroke, new techniques and medications offer the potential for recovery up to a year or more after a stroke attack.
American Stroke Association
7272 Greenville Avenue
Dallas TX 75231
888-4-STROKE or 1-888-478-7653
Hazel K. Goddess Fund for Stroke Research in Women
1217 South Flagler Drive, Suite 302
West Palm Beach, FL 33401
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS)
NIH Neurological Institute
P.O. Box 5801
Bethesda, MD 20824
Tel: 800-352-9424 or 301-496-5751
TTY (for people using adaptive equipment): (301) 468-5981