According to the National Stroke Association, stroke is the fourth leading cause of death in America, as well as a leading cause of adult disability. Most of us are familiar with the term, but we may not know exactly what it entails. A stroke happens when a blood clot blocks an artery or a blood vessel breaks, disrupting blood flow to an area in the brain. This disruption of the blood flow causes brain cells to begin to die, which in turn leads to brain damage. Minor strokes may only cause temporary impairment, however two thirds of survivors will have some type of disability. So, what can we do to get ahead of the damage a potential stroke can cause? Let’s educate ourselves on both types of strokes and learn to recognize stroke symptoms.
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First, the vast majority of strokes are ischemic strokes. An ischemic stroke happens when a blood vessel that supplies blood to the brain is obstructed. A blood clot or gradual build up of plaque can cause these blockages. Another type of stroke is a hemorrhagic stroke. A hemorrhagic stroke occurs when a blood vessel in the brain ruptures and leaks blood into the brain. A transient ischemic attack (TIA), also known as a “mini stroke,” is caused by a temporary clot. Unlike a stroke, a TIA does not produce permanent injury to the brain. However, just because TIAs do not cause permanent damage does not mean they should be ignored. TIAs can often be predictors of an actual stroke. How do we recognize a TIA or worse, a possible stroke?
Many general symptoms accompany a stroke or TIA. If you experience sudden numbness, tingling, or loss of movement in your face, leg, or arm (especially on one side of the body), it should be considered serious. Sudden vision changes and trouble speaking or understanding simple statements can be symptomatic of a stroke. Also, if you develop a sudden, severe headache that is unlike any headache you have ever experienced, you should seek medical attention immediately. Abrupt balance problems can signal a possible stroke or TIA. If you notice yourself having any of these symptoms, be sure to seek medical treatment as soon as possible.
Recognizing stroke symptoms in others can be difficult. The National Stroke Association developed the acronym FAST to help you identify potential stroke symptoms in other people. The F stands for face. Ask the person you are concerned about to smile, if one side of his or her face droops, there could be a problem. The letter A represents arms. If the person raises both arms and one drifts downward, he or she needs to see a medical professional. The S represents speech. If you ask the person to repeat a simple phrase, check to see if his or her speech is slurred or out of the ordinary. The T in FAST denotes time. If you detect any of these warning signs, then call 9-1-1 immediately, as time is crucial to the treatment’s effectiveness. That’s right. Contrary to popular misconceptions, strokes can be treated. Be sure to note the time when symptoms first appeared. If it is within three hours, an FDA-approved clot buster medication may be administered, which may reduce long-term disability for ischemic strokes. At times, stroke and TIA symptoms can be quite subtle. However, disregarding even the slightest of symptoms can ultimately result in permanent and more severe damage. Learning about strokes and their warning signs allows us to protect our loved ones and ourselves!
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