Stroke

Brain cells need a constant supply of oxygen and nutrients. They are delivered by a network of blood vessels that reach every part of the brain. When something cuts off that supply, brain cells downstream begin to die. The injury that follows is called a stroke.

Most strokes strike when a blood clot becomes lodged in one of the brain's arteries, blocking blood flow. In some cases, the clot forms inside the artery, usually because a cholesterol-filled plaque inside the artery breaks open. This is called a thrombotic stroke. In other cases, a blood clot or a solid mass of debris that originates elsewhere travels to the brain, where it blocks a brain artery. This is called an embolic stroke. A third type of stroke, hemorrhagic stroke, occurs when a blood vessel in the brain bursts.

Since different areas of the brain are responsible for different functions, symptoms of stroke vary. They can be changes in sensation, movement, sight, speech, balance, and coordination. Sometimes a stroke is preceded by one or more transient ischemic attacks (TIAs). These are brief episodes of stroke-like symptoms that last for a few minutes — or possibly up to 24 hours — but that go away on their own.

If you think that you, or someone you are with, is having a stroke, call 911 right away. The sooner you call, the sooner treatment can begin — "time is brain," as emergency room doctors say. The type of treatment depends on the type of stroke that has occurred. If the brain's blood supply is restored quickly and completely, a full recovery with little or no disability is possible. The more widespread the damage, and the greater delay of treatment, the more severe and long-lasting the damage.

Recovery after a stroke depends on how well healthy areas of the brain take over duties that had been performed by the damaged brain tissue. To some extent, especially in children and young adults, recovery is possible because of the brain's ability to compensate for damage in one area by working harder in another — by relying on alternate wiring for some functions or by rewiring around the injured site. When such rewiring isn't possible, rehabilitation techniques can help the brain recover function.

Stroke Articles

How old is your heart?

An online “heart age” calculator can help people understand their risk of heart attack and stroke. The estimate is based on a person’s blood pressure reading, smoking history, body mass index, and whether they have diabetes. About 75% of heart attacks are due to risk factors that increase heart age. In the United States, 50% of men and 40% of women have a heart age that’s five or more years greater than their actual age. (Locked) More »

Your stroke prevention action plan

To prevent stroke, start by keeping your blood pressure under control. Among the various risk factors for stroke, lowering blood pressure, if it is high, can have the greatest impact. Although blood pressure is critical, other steps are important too, such as exercising regularly and maintaining a healthy weight by eating a varied, plant-based diet. (Locked) More »

Don't be fooled by TIA symptoms

A transient ischemic attack or ministroke does not create lasting brain damage but is often followed by a major stroke within a few days or weeks. It is important to get checked out right away for symptoms such as speech and vision problems or weakness in your face, arm, or leg, especially if it occurs only on one side of the body. Prompt treatment can limit damage and help prevent a future brain attack. More »

Longer work hours may boost stroke risk

People who work at least 55 hours per week may face a higher risk of stroke than people who work 35 to 40 hours per week. Working long hours may lead people to sit more, sleep less, and have higher stress levels-all of which can boost stroke risk. More »

Low-dose aspirin for people with heart disease

In the United States, about seven in 10 adults with heart disease follow national guidelines that recommend taking a low-dose aspirin to lower the risk of heart attack or stroke. A low-dose aspirin tablet is 81 milligrams. (Locked) More »

Secondhand smoke boosts stroke risk

People who spend at least an hour a week in close contact with a smoker may have a 30% higher risk of stroke compared with people who are not exposed to secondhand smoke. (Locked) More »

Traffic noise may raise stroke risk

Exposure to traffic noise may slightly raise a person's risk of being hospitalized for a stroke and from dying of any cause. The noise may boost stress hormone levels, which can raise the risk of cardiovascular disease. More »

Stroke risk when you have atrial fibrillation

Atrial fibrillation (afib) is among the most common heart rhythm irregularities. During a bout of afib, blood can stagnate and form clots, which can travel to the brain. More than one in six ischemic strokes can be traced to atrial fibrillation. Because effectively detecting and treating afib could avert many strokes, doctors have devised an improved scoring system to identify people with afib who are at high stroke risk. In addition, newer anticoagulant drugs offer safer and more convenient stroke protection for more people. (Locked) More »