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

A little-known factor that boosts heart attack risk

About 20% of people have high levels of lipoprotein(a), or Lp(a), a fatty particle linked to premature heart disease. People who should consider getting an Lp(a) test include those with a family history of early heart disease; people with heart disease who have normal (untreated) levels of LDL, HDL, and triglycerides; and close relatives of people with high Lp(a). Studies of new drugs to lower Lp(a) are under way, with results expected in a few years. (Locked) More »

Understanding "blood thinners"

So-called blood thinners actually don’t "thin" blood. They are anti-clotting drugs that protect high-risk people from developing potentially dangerous blood clots that can lead to a heart attack or stroke. People who may benefit from them include those who have atrial fibrillation or a stent in a blood vessel, or who are immobile after surgery. (Locked) More »

Bad habits come in pairs

Couples often share health habits, whether good or bad, according to a recent study. When one partner doesn’t exercise regularly or eat a healthy diet, the other most often doesn’t either. Researchers found that in nearly 80% of cases, couples shared a high risk of developing heart-related problems because of shared risk factors. But the good news was that couples also seemed to influence each other in a positive direction. When one partner had good health habits, the other often did as well. (Locked) More »

Fruit of the month: Bananas

One of the most popular fruits in the United States, bananas are affordable and available year-round. They’re a good source of potassium, a mineral linked to lower rates of high blood pressure and stroke. More »

Migraine: A connection to cardiovascular disease?

People who get migraines with aura have a slightly higher risk of heart attack, stroke, or death from cardiovascular disease than people who get migraines without aura or no migraines. But migraines are most common in younger women, whose baseline risk of cardiovascular problems is very low in the first place. Still, those who get migraine with aura should be sure to tell their primary care provider or gynecologist. Taking estrogen-containing birth control pills or hormone therapy may further raise stroke risk in these women. More »

The major problem of ministrokes

Transient ischemic attacks (TIAs), also known as mini-strokes, share many of the typical stroke signs and symptoms, and are a warning sign of a high stroke risk. Yet, they often are mild and brief, which is why they get routinely missed or ignored. People need to be mindful about common TIA symptoms and seek immediate medical care when they occur. (Locked) More »