What Exactly Is a Stroke?

Stroke

What is a stroke?

A stroke, also known as a ‘brain attack,’ occurs when the blood flow to the brain is interrupted.

If this doesn’t get urgent treatment within 3-6 hours, brain cells can die, and permanent damage or death can occur.

This can be due to a blockage in the blood vessels (ischemic stroke) or when an artery bursts (hemorrhagic stroke).

In either case, brain cells are deprived of oxygen and begin to die as a result.

This can lead to paralysis, loss of speech, memory loss, or even death.

The fact of the matter is stroke is a serious life-threatening medical condition.

Stroke Symptoms

The symptoms of stroke can vary depending on the area of the brain that has been damaged.

Some common symptoms include:

  • Sudden numbness or weakness in the face, leg or arm, especially on one side of the body
  • Sudden confusion/trouble speaking/understanding speech
  • Trouble seeing with one or both eyes
  • Dizziness, trouble walking, or loss of balance or coordination
  • Severe headache with no known cause

Learn More: Signs of A Stroke You Should Never Ignore

Recognizing the symptoms of a stroke

Recognizing the symptoms of a stroke can save a life.

Symptoms of a stroke can be remembered using the acronym FAST, which stands for:

  • Face – does one side of their face droop?
  • Arms – can they raise both arms and keep them there? Do they have weakness or numbness in their arm or leg on either side of the body?
  • Speech – do they sound strange when talking, like not using correctly formed words?
  • Time – is there time to get them help? If it’s happening right now, call 9-1-1.

If you answer “yes” to any of the above questions, call 9-1-1 immediately.

During a stroke, time is of the essence.

The faster you act, the better the chances are for reducing brain damage and preventing long-term effects.

What Causes It?

A stroke can be caused by a lack of blood supply (ischemic) or bleeding in the brain (hemorrhagic).

Ischemic strokes

Ischemic strokes are the most common, occurring when arteries that supply blood to the brain become narrow or blocked.

This can be caused by a buildup of plaque inside them, which means there isn’t enough space for blood to pass through.

If this blocking forms suddenly and completely, it is known as an ‘ischemic stroke.’

Hemorrhagic strokes

Hemorrhagic strokes occur when an artery in the brain leaks or ruptures.

This is caused by a blood clot that forms elsewhere in the body and then travels to the brain, it is known as an ‘intracerebral hemorrhage’ (ICH).

This type of stroke bleeds into the tissue around the outside of the brain, which can cause damage to nearby structures such as nerves and other cells.

Transient Ischemic Attack (TIA)

A transient ischemic attack (TIA) is different from an ischemic stroke.

A TIA is a ‘mini-stroke,’ and happens when blood flow to the brain is temporarily blocked.

This can sometimes cause an aura, which are neurological symptoms that occur just before a migraine or seizure.

Symptoms of a TIA usually don’t last longer than a few minutes or an hour and resolve completely.

What is the most serious type of stroke?

The most serious type of stroke is ‘Hemorrhagic strokes.’

Why?

Because these types of strokes can cause severe neurological damage or death.

However, according to one study, hemorrhagic stroke is not associated with higher mortality rates than ischemic stroke.

Risk factors for stroke

There are many risk factors that increase your chances of having a stroke.

Age is one, so the older you get, the more likely you are to have a stroke.

Other risk factors include:

If you have a first-degree relative (parent, sibling, or child) who has had a stroke, you may be at greater risk too.

Anyone over the age of 40 should be evaluated for stroke risk factors, even if they are healthy.

You can then work with your doctor to lower that risk.

What Are the Long-term Effects of a Stroke?

Long-term effects of a stroke often depend on how severe it was and can include:

  • Difficulty with language
  • Memory loss
  • Changes in personality or mood
  • Paralysis on one side of the body
  • Problems understanding math or numbers (math blindness),
  • Fatigue
  • Vertigo/dizziness/loss of balance
  • Problems swallowing
  • Speech problems including slurring, slowing, or hoarseness
  • Seizures
  • Problems with sensation
  • Vision problems/blurred vision

Stroke Treatment

Simply put: Get to a hospital ASAP.

If you are worried that you or someone else might be having a stroke, do not wait to see if symptoms get worse.

Call 9-1-1 immediately.

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, stroke treatment starts immediately when the emergency medical services (EMS) arrive to transport you to the hospital.

Once you get to the hospital, treatment is available to break up blood clots and open blocked arteries.

For example, if you are having an ischemic stroke, medication known as ’tissue plasminogen activator (tPA) may be given to try and dissolve the clot quickly.

People who receive tPA treatment within three hours of their stroke have a higher chance of recovering and avoiding disability.

In some cases, surgery may be needed to remove the clot.

How long does it take to recover after a stroke?

The time it takes to recover after a stroke depends on how severe the stroke was and what areas of the brain were affected.

Many people who have suffered a stroke are left with permanent disabilities, including paralysis.

For some people, recovery usually occurs during the first weeks to months after a stroke.

But for others, recovery may take up to two years or more.

Is stroke rehabilitation effective?

Yes.

Rehabilitation after a stroke can be very helpful to people who are recovering, but the amount of time it takes varies.

You may have physical therapy sessions during which your therapist will work with you to help improve your balance, coordination, and strength.

You may also have occupational therapy sessions where your therapist will help you manage everyday tasks, such as cooking or cleaning.

Depending on your specific needs, you may also have sessions with a speech therapist who will help with problem areas such as memory, speaking, and swallowing.

After a stroke, your brain needs time to adjust and recover.

But with help from rehabilitation therapy sessions, you can work toward recovery and improving your quality of life.

Can you recover 100 percent from a stroke?

According to the National Stroke Association:

  • Ten percent of patients who have a stroke recover almost completely.
  • Twenty-five percent recover with minor impairments.
  • Forty percent experience moderate to severe impairments and need special care.

Can the brain heal itself after a stroke?

Fortunately, no.

The brain cannot heal itself or replace dead cells.

But there is good news for stroke survivors, which is neuroplasticity.

Let me explain:

Neuroplasticity is the ability of the brain to adapt to new situations, injuries, or changes.

In fact, neuroplasticity allows the brain to reorganize itself and form new pathways.

In other words, it can fill in the gaps created by a stroke.

This is why rehabilitation therapy for a stroke can be so helpful because it can help retrain those neural pathways.

Stroke Prevention

A stroke happens quickly, so the best thing you can do to prevent one is to get regular checkups and live a healthy lifestyle.

This includes:

  • Blood pressure monitoring
  • Eat healthy foods
  • Quitting smoking if you smoke
  • Avoiding illegal drugs
  • Controlling cholesterol levels
  • Keeping your blood sugar at the proper level
  • Exercising regularly
  • Getting enough sleep
  • Staying hydrated (drinking water)
  • Keeping weight under control
  • Reduce stress
  • Limit alcohol consumption to 1 drink per day for women and 2 drinks per day for men

The takeaway

Stroke is a condition that occurs when blood flow to one or more areas of the brain stops.

Brain cells begin to die within minutes of a lack of blood flow.

When enough cells die, the result is loss of function and permanent disability.

However, there are treatment options to maximize the chances of recovery.

Stroke rehabilitation can help you recover, but your progress will depend on how severe the stroke was, whether you received treatment within 3 hours of the stroke, and what parts of your brain were affected.

People can experience complete or partial paralysis after a stroke, but most people can recover with help from rehabilitation therapy.

After a stroke, the brain needs time to adjust and adapt.

And because neuroplasticity allows the brain to reorganize, rehab therapy can help create new neural pathways and improve your quality of life.

If you suspect you may be having a stroke, call 911 immediately.

Don’t wait for the signs and symptoms to get worse!