A Stroke Primer: Everything You Need to Know about It

A stroke is one of the most serious medical emergencies that anyone can experience, second only to a heart attack. It’s one of the many leading causes of death in America as well as all over the world, and it can happen to anyone regardless of age, gender, or nationality.

Thankfully, breakthroughs in modern medicine has revealed that strokes are in fact preventable, and can even be stopped as it’s happening. Provided, of course, that you spot the stroke happening quickly enough and react just as swiftly.

Unfortunately, despite how dangerous and common strokes actually are, not enough people are aware of what a stroke actually is or how to recognize one in progress. There are also many myths surrounding strokes, especially when it comes to what causes it. This lamentable lack of information—and abundance of misinformation—could be a reason for strokes being so deadly.

As such, we’ve decided to create this complete primer on strokes, both to raise awareness about this medical condition in general and to spread pertinent information that could save your life as well as others. We’ll also be sharing some tips on how to minimize the chances of you having a stroke.

We hope that by the end of this primer, you’ll not only be armed with the knowledge to protect yourself and others from this seriously life-threatening condition, but also become inspired to spread awareness. We definitely encourage you to make copies of this document and distribute it amongst your family and friends. If you want to take it a step further, you can use customized promo materials such as pins, ID lanyards, posters, or printable wristbands to increase public awareness about strokes.

With that said, let’s start.

What is a stroke?

A stroke is a medical event in which a blood vessel inside your brain becomes blocked or pinched to the point that it bursts or just stops delivering blood. This cuts off that the brain from the body’s blood circulation system, which delivers oxygen to all the parts of the body through the blood. As the human brain needs oxygen to function, once its supply of oxygenated blood is cut off, its cells as well as the nerve cells surrounding it begin to die.

This type of brain damage is so serious that it can result in the person suffering the stroke to lose sensation or strength in a large part of their body. They may even lose certain important abilities such as the ability to see, talk, swallow, or even breathe on their own. Worse, if the stroke is able to cause enough damage to the brain, it can easily result in the person’s death.

Are there multiple types of stroke, and what are they?

Yes, there are in fact multiple types of stroke. Here are some of the major and most common ones:

Ischemic stroke

This type of stroke is the most common, making up at least 4/5ths or more of all strokes. An ischemic stroke occurs when a blood vessel in the brain develops a blood clot, also known as a thrombus. This thrombus is usually big enough to block the flow of blood coursing through the vessel, and in effect cut off the brain’s supply of oxygenated blood. Brain damage or death soon occurs after this thrombus is formed unless medical attention and treatment is quickly applied.

Hemorrhagic stroke

This is a rarer but also more serious type of stroke, one that takes up at least 13% of all strokes that has so far occurred. .A hemorrhagic stroke happens when a blood vessel’s structure weakens to the point that the pressure of the blood coursing through it is enough to rupture the blood vessel itself. This rupturing causes a massive amount of bleeding within the brain, thereby causing brain damage.

There are two ways in which a hemorrhagic stroke can happen. The first is through an intracerebral hemorrhage, in which the bleed happens inside the brain. The second is by a subarachnoid hemorrhage, where an aneurysm ruptures and spills blood into the space between the skull and the brain. An aneurysm is a blood vessel that’s ballooned and swollen up either due to a structural defect or a partial blockage. This type of hemorrhagic stroke is usually caused by untreated hypertension or high blood pressure.

Transient ischemic attack (TIA)

A transient ischemic attack is not necessarily a stroke, but rather a clear warning sign that a serious one is about to take place. In a transient ischemic attack, the victim suffers all the symptoms of a stroke, but these only last for either a few minutes to an entire day. As there is no lasting or permanent brain damage incurred during a TIA, a sufferer can recover quickly and completely from such an attack. However, it is still highly recommended that they seek immediate medical treatment, as 1 in 3 people who experience a TIA will go on to suffer a complete and total stroke.

What kind of lasting impact can a stroke cause?

The lasting impact of a stroke depends on its severity as well as where on the brain most of the damage is inflicted. Some of the more severe and major effects of a stroke include the following:

  • Paralysis, or the inability to move
  • Weakness and/or numbness in large areas of the body
  • Inability to comprehend spoken or written words
  • Muteness (Inability to speak)
  • Inability to communicate
  • Inability to swallow
  • Partial or complete blindness
  • Amnesia
  • Mental fogginess or confusion
  • Change in personality or mood swings

What are the risk factors for having a stroke?

Anyone can get a stroke, regardless of what your age or gender is. However, there are some risk factors that can increase your chances of having a stroke. Fortunately, some of them can be managed or controlled. Others, however, are uncontrollable and must be taken into account during your regular checkups. Here are some of the major ones that can be controlled:

  • High blood pressure (hypertension)
  • Smoking
  • Pre-existing heart disease
  • Atherosclerosis (plaque buildup in your arteries)
  • Diabetes mellitus
  • High blood cholesterol (hyperlipidemia)
  • Alcohol abuse
  • Being morbidly obese or overweight
  • Illegal use or abuse of recreational drugs, like cocaine, meth, and marijuana

Meanwhile, here are the risk factors that are considered inherent or uncontrollable:

  • Age – the older someone is, the higher their risk of stroke
  • Being male
  • Being of the African-American, Hispanic, Native American, and Alaskan race
  • Having a family history of stroke
  • Having previously suffered a stroke or heart attack

By managing the controllable risk factors through a healthy diet, an active lifestyle, and regular health checkups, you can minimize the chances of suffering a stroke.

What are the major warning signs of a stroke?

A stroke is a serious and life-threatening medical emergency. Call 911 or your local emergency number immediately if any one or more of the following stroke warnings suddenly manifest:

  • A sudden weakness or numbness on the face or limbs, especially if it happens either on the left or right side of the body
  • A sudden difficulty in seeing, either through one or both eyes
  • A sudden onset of speaking or comprehension difficulties
  • A sudden onset of slurred, slow, or rambling speech
  • A  sudden difficulty in walking or being able to stand straight
  • Sudden, severe dizziness or loss of balance
  • A sudden difficulty with swallowing or the inability to do so

Another way of finding out if a person is truly suffering the effects of a stroke is to use the FAST stroke mnemonic. This is a quick and easy way to remember the giveaway signs that a stroke is occurring.

  • F: Face. Look at the person’s face and ask them to smile. If one corner of their mouth droops instead of curling up, they may be experiencing a stroke.
  • A: Arms. Ask the person to raise both their arms up by their sides. If one of their arms start to drift or drop downwards, they may be suffering a stroke.
  • S: Speech. Make the person say their full name or birthday. If they’re suffering a stroke, their words may come out as slurred or jumbled. They may even be unable to answer you in their confusion.
  • T: Time. If the above tests turn up with a positive result, then you need to call emergency services immediately. Don’t delay, as the faster the person receives medical attention, the higher their chances of survival and complete recovery.

Can strokes be prevented?

Yes, definitely. Like we mentioned earlier, managing your controllable risk factors while taking your uncontrollable ones into account whenever you go for a health checkup can go a long way towards preventing strokes from happening in your future. If you’re in doubt, adopt the following practices:

  • A healthy diet, one that has a large amount of colorful vegetables and fruits, while avoiding saturated fats, trans fats, and sodium
  • 150 minutes or more of moderate-intensity cardiovascular exercise (brisk walking, swimming, cycling) as well as two or more days a week of strength-building activities
  • Avoid smoking and recreational/illegal drug use
  • Avoid or limit alcohol consumption to only two drinks a day for men, and one drink a day for women

Strokes are deadly, but they can be managed and prevented

A stroke can be as serious and as deadly as a heart attack. However, with the proper management of risk factors, as well as a healthy lifestyle and eagle-eyed vigilance of the symptoms of stroke, it can be prevented. Being able to spot the warning signs of a stroke can also help prevent a stroke in progress from claiming another victim.

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