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

Lowering blood pressure: How low should you go?

High blood pressure wreaks havoc in the circulatory system. It is a key contributor to heart attack and stroke. However, blood pressure that is too low can lead to problems such as blurry vision, dizziness, confusion, and fainting, which can diminish quality of life, especially in older people. In recognition of the trade-off between lower risk of cardiovascular disease and overall well-being, experts from three major heart groups have issued an updated set of blood pressure guidelines that call for a flexible approach in designing medication regimens for treating hypertension. (Locked) More »

To lower stroke risk, be sure to get this B vitamin

People with high blood pressure should be sure they’re getting enough of the B vitamin folate in their diets, which may lower the risk of a stroke. The recommended daily intake of folate is 400 micrograms per day. Folate occurs naturally in many foods, but especially green leafy vegetables, beans, and citrus fruits. Most grain products (including wheat flour, cornmeal, pasta, and rice) are fortified with the synthetic version of the vitamin, known as folic acid. (Locked) More »

Atrial fibrillation: Living with a common heart condition

Atrial fibrillation (afib) is an irregular quivering of the heart’s upper chambers. This abnormal heart rhythm increases the risk of stroke because it can cause clots to form in the heart and travel to the brain. To prevent strokes, most people with atrial fibrillation must take a blood thinner (anticoagulant) for life. The standard medication is warfarin (Coumadin), but four drugs in a new class of medication are now available. These prevent strokes as effectively as warfarin and reduce the chance of dangerous bleeding in the brain associated with anticoagulants. (Locked) More »

One in 10 men may be taking aspirin unnecessarily

A study found that one in 10 people who take protective aspirin may not really qualify, because the risk of heart attacks and strokes wasn't great enough to justify the risk of unwanted bleeding associated with aspirin. (Locked) More »

Stressful job may raise stroke risk

Having a demanding job with little control may slightly increase the risk of a stroke. Job strain may activate factors that predispose a person to developing a blood clot, which can lead to a stroke. (Locked) More »

Can memory woes foretell a stroke?

Well-educated people who report memory problems may face a higher risk of stroke. Education helps people develop more widespread brain networks, which enables them to compensate for damage from tiny, unnoticed strokes. But these small strokes can foretell larger, more serious strokes. Because educated people are more likely to notice subtle memory changes, their memory complaints are a more reliable predictor of stroke than memory complaints in less-educated people. Controlling blood pressure and exercising regularly are important ways to prevent strokes.  (Locked) More »

Reduce your risk of silent strokes

Silent strokes occur without symptoms, yet have the potential to severely impair memory and brain health. A silent stroke is usually the result of a clot forming in a tiny artery supplying blood to a “silent” part of the brain. These areas don’t control vital functions, such as speech or walking, which is why the interruption of blood flow doesn’t result in obvious symptoms. But a person can experience multiple silent strokes, which can start to reveal themselves through memory lapses and mood changes. (Locked) More »