Stroke is a brain injury caused by an interruption in blood flow. It needs to be treated right away. Brain tissue that does not get oxygen and nutrients from blood can die within minutes. The damage to the brain can cause a sudden loss in bodily functions. The changes will depend on the part of the brain that is damaged.
Two blood flow problems can cause a stroke:
- A hemorrhagic stroke is caused by a ruptured blood vessel. It may be:
- Intracerebral hemorrhage—bleeding in the brain
- Subarachnoid hemorrhage—bleeding in the tissue around the brain
- An ischemic stroke is caused by a blocked blood vessel.
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A hemorrhagic stroke happens because of a weakened blood vessel in the brain. Blood vessels may be weakened by:
Things that may raise the risk of stroke include:
- Men are more likely to have a stroke than women
- Being 55 years of age or more
- Family history of stroke
Things that can raise a person's risk of hemorrhagic stroke include:
Symptoms will depend on the part of the brain that is affected. Getting medical help right away is key to reducing the amount of brain damage. Call for emergency medical services right away if someone suddenly has:
- Weakness or numbness of face, arm, or leg, especially on one side of the body
- Trouble speaking or understanding
- Trouble seeing in one or both eyes
- Lightheadedness, trouble walking, loss of balance, or clumsiness
- Severe headache with no known cause
- Loss of consciousness
Other symptoms a person may have are:
- Neck stiffness
- Nausea or vomiting
- Sensitivity to light
A physical exam will be done. The doctor will look for muscle weakness, vision and speech problems. If possible, the doctor will ask about symptoms and past health. A CT scan may be done to confirm the diagnosis.
Images of blood vessels will help find the cause of the bleeding. Image tests may include:
Blood tests will also be done. Tests will show how well the blood can clot. The doctor may also check the fluid that surrounds the brain and spine.
Brain tissue without blood flow dies quickly. Fast treatment is needed to stop the bleeding and get blood flowing to the brain again. Blood spilled in the brain is also trapped in the skull. It can put pressure on the brain. That pressure may need to be eased.
Medicine can be given to help the blood clot. This may also include vitamin K. Medicine can also help:
- Ease pressure in the brain
- Prevent seizures
- Lower blood pressure
Surgery may be done to help stop the bleeding. Some may be done through blood vessels. A tube is placed into blood vessels of the groin and passed to the vessels in the brain. Next steps will depend on the cause and site of the bleeding:
- For a burst aneurysm—A clip may be placed just before the damaged vessel. It should stop the bleeding.
- For a leaking aneurysm that has not burst—A special coil or clip may be placed in the weak area. The coil will help a clot form over the area. It will prevent bleeding.
- For an abnormal tangle of blood vessels—Surgery may be done to repair the blood vessels. It may be able to remove the tangles or reroute the blood around the area.
The stroke and damaged tissue can cause swelling in the brain. Surgery may be needed to ease the pressure. One common way is to remove part of the skull. This is called a craniotomy.
Recovery will depend on the amount of brain damage. Rehabilitation may include:
- Physical therapy—to regain as much movement as possible
- Occupational therapy—to help with daily tasks and self care
- Speech therapy—to help with swallowing and speech issues
- Psychological therapy—to improve mood and decrease depression
Manage and watch medical issues. This includes aneurysms and high blood pressure. Other habits that may reduce the risk of stroke include:
- Regular exercise.
- A balanced diet with plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
- Quitting smoking.
- Keeping a healthy weight.
- Limiting alcohol. This means no more than 2 drinks per day for men and 1 drink per day for women.
- Not using recreational drugs, such as cocaine.
- Intracerebral hemorrhage. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/intracerebral-hemorrhage.
- Stroke (acute management). EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/management/stroke-acute-management-1.
- Subarachnoid hemorrhage. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/subarachnoid-hemorrhage.
- Treatment options. American Stroke Association website. Available at: https://www.stroke.org/en/help-and-support/resource-library/treatment-options.
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