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

Weighing the risks and benefits of aspirin therapy

Aspirin therapy is typically prescribed to people who have atherosclerosis of the arteries of the heart or brain, or risk factors for such disease. Just who should take a daily aspirin, how much aspirin, and what type of aspirin are hotly debated issues. As a preventive therapy, aspirin may be prescribed for people who don’t have evidence of cardiovascular disease but do have one or more risk factors, such as high cholesterol or diabetes. However, that is also debated. (Locked) More »

Women’s stroke rate stubbornly steady

A recent study found that while the stroke rate among men has dropped in recent years, the risk for women has stayed the same. While men may be benefiting from prevention and treatment efforts for high blood pressure, cholesterol, and diabetes, women do not seem to be reaping the same benefits. This may reflect some risk factors specific to women that should be given additional attention. (Locked) More »

A salad a day keeps stroke away?

Eating plenty of nitrate-rich vegetables—such as lettuce, spinach, and beets—may lower a person’s risk of dying of a stroke or heart attack. The body converts nitrates into nitric oxide, a compound that lowers blood pressure. More »

Does diet soda raise stroke risk?

The evidence linking diet sodas to a higher risk of stroke and dementia is weak. But there are other reasons to avoid artificial sweeteners, namely because they don’t seem to help with weight loss. Also, people who use them regularly may find less-sweet fruits and vegetables unappealing, which could lead them to miss out on nutrients in these foods. But sugar-sweetened beverages are closely tied to a higher likelihood of weight gain, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke. Plain or sparkling water infused with fruit or other natural flavors is the healthiest choice. (Locked) More »

Can your blood pressure be too low?

In people with heart disease, lowering systolic blood pressure (the top number) to 120 mm Hg may also lower diastolic blood pressure (the bottom number) to less than 70 mm Hg, which is linked to an increased risk of heart attack, heart failure, and death. More »

Recognizing the most common warning signs of a stroke

The most common symptoms of a stroke—Facial drooping, Arm weakness, and Speech difficulty—are included in the mnemonic “FAST” (the “T” stands for Time to call 911). Balance problems may also occur, but this is less common and often accompanied by other symptoms, such as leg heaviness or trouble seeing. Visual problems can include blurred vision, double vision, or trouble focusing. Rapid recognition of these signs and prompt treatment can prevent a potentially devastating disability or death due to a stroke. More »