In the United States, stroke is the 5th leading cause of death and disability, and 80% of stroke cases are preventable. It is even a treatable condition and fewer people die of stroke now when compared to the past.
Before I go far, let me tell you what stroke is especially if you are wondering what a stroke is.
Stroke is a disease that affects the arteries that carries blood to the brain and within the brain. When the blood vessel that carries blood, oxygen, and nutrient to the brain is blocked or ruptures, a stroke occurs.
A blood clot can block the blood vessels, and when this happens, a part of your brain will not get the blood, oxygen, and nutrients it needs and so it dies.
When this happens within minutes your brain cells can start dying. Stroke has to be treated promptly because it a medical emergency. When it is treated promptly, damages done to the brain and other complications are greatly minimized.
Many people think stroke occurs in the heart, which is not true, it occurs in the brain and shortly I will show you how stroke affects the brain.
How Stroke Affects The Brain?
The main organ of the body affected in stroke is the brain and this is a very important and extremely complex organ that controls almost all the functions of the body.
If a stroke occurs and the flow of blood to a certain region of the brain that controls a particular function is affected, that part of the body would also be affected and it wouldn’t function as it should.
If a stroke occurs at the back of the brain, some disabilities in vision would be noticed. The impact of the stroke on your body depends mainly on the area of the obstruction and the extent of damage to the affected brain tissue.
Also, it is important to note that one side of the brain controls the opposite side of the body, so a stroke affecting one side of the brain will affect the neurological complications on the side of the body it controls.
If the stroke occurs in the right side of the brain, it will affect the left side of your body and produce the following symptoms:
- Memory loss
- Inquisitive and quick behavioral style
- Problems with vision
- The left side of the body would be affected.
If the stroke occurs in the left side of your brain, it will affect the right side of the body and you will have the following symptoms:
- Memory loss
- Cautious and slow behavioral style
- Language/speech problems
- The right side of the would be paralyzed
When the stroke occurs in the brain stem, the both sides of the body would be affected as the patient would be in a locked-in state but this depends on the severity of the injury.
In a locked-in state, the patient cannot speak or move below the neck.
Types and Causes of Stroke
1. Ischemic Stroke (Clots)
This type of stroke occurs when the blood vessels that supply blood to the brain is blocked. 87% of all strokes is ischemic stroke and it is of many types
The two most common forms of ischemic stroke are:
a. Embolic Stroke:
An embolic stroke happens when a blood clot or debris forms away from your brain in other organs like the heart (the most common place).
Then, the bloodstream sweeps this from the heart or other places to the stay in the narrower arteries of the brain. This blood clot is called an embolus.
b. Thrombotic Stroke:
This type of stroke occurs when a thrombus (blood clot) forms in one of the arteries carrying blood to the brain. A clot can be formed by factors such as plaques (fatty deposits) that buildup inside the arteries.
This can reduce or obstruct the flow of blood (atherosclerosis) or lead to other conditions of the artery.
2. Hemorrhagic Strokes (Bleeds)
This type of stroke occurs when a weak blood vessel ruptures.
They are two types of weak blood vessels that can lead to an hemorrhagic stroke, they are arteriovenous and aneurysms malformations (AVMs).
The most common cause of hemorrhagic stroke is an uncontrolled high blood pressure. It is also caused by overtreatment with blood thinners (anti-coagulants) and aneurysms (these are weak spots in your blood vessels).
Two common types of hemorrhagic stroke are:
a. Subarachnoid Hemorrhage:
In this type of stroke, an artery on the surface of the brain or close to the surface of the brain bursts open and spills into the space in-between your skull and the surface of your brain.
A sign of this bleeding is a sudden and severe headache and it is mostly caused when a berry-shaped or small sack-shaped aneurysm bursts.
After this hemorrhage, the blood vessels in your brain can become wide and narrow erratically, this is known as vasospasm, this will damage your brain cell by limiting the flow of blood.
b. Intracerebral Hemorrhage:
In this type of hemorrhagic stroke, a blood vessel in your brain bursts and spills into the brain tissue surrounding the affected area.
This will damage the brain cells and the brain cells beyond the leak won’t get blood and that will also lead to further damages.
The causes of this type of stroke are the use of blood thinning medications, vascular malformations, trauma, and high blood pressure.
3. Transient Ischemic Attack (TIA)
This type is caused by a serious temporary blood clot, it is called a “mini stroke” and it should be taken seriously because it is a warning stroke.
It is characterized by a temporal decrease in the flow of blood to the brain and you will have symptoms similar to that of stroke. It can last for as little as 5 minutes but there is no permanent damage done to the tissues of the brain and the symptoms are not lasting.
TIA occurs when a debris or blood clot blocks the blocks the flow of blood to parts of your nervous system. Even if your symptoms clear up, you still need to seek emergency help because this increases your risks of having a full blown stroke leading to permanent damages.
If you’ve experienced a TIA, this simply implies that there is a blood clot in your heart or a partially blocked or narrowed artery leading to your brain.
Relying only on your symptoms, it is difficult to tell if you are having a stroke or TIA and even when the symptoms last for less than an hour, there is still a high risk of permanent damage to the tissues of your brain.
4. Cryptogenic Stroke
Most cases of strokes are caused by a blood clot obstructing the flow of blood to the brain, and the stroke cannot be determined in some cases despite testing.
Cryptogenic stroke is a stroke which cause is not known.
5. Brain Stem Stroke
The both sides of the body are affected when the stroke occurs in the brain stem. This leaves the patient in a locked-in state.
When this occurs, the patient can’t speak or move below the neck.
Signs and Symptoms of Stroke
There are some signs and symptoms to watch out for if you think you or someone might be having a stroke. You have to pay attention to when these signs begin and you have to get treated immediately.
When you delay, your treatment options can be affected.
Difficulty speaking and understanding:
Most stroke patients experience confusion and if you have stroke you might experience this too, you may also have difficulty in understanding speech or you slur your words.
You may notice sudden dizziness or even stumble while you walk, loss of balance or coordination is common in stroke patients.
Numbness or paralysis of the arm, leg, or face:
Sudden paralysis, weakness, or numbness can be developed in the arm, leg, or face and this usually happens on one side of the body.
Try and raise your both arms over your head at the same time, if one arm begins to fall, that’s a sign that you might be having a stroke. Another sign to look out for on your face is that one side of your mouth will drop when you smile.
You may feel a severe and sudden headache and it is often accompanied by vomiting, altered consciousness, or dizziness. These are indications that you are having a stroke.
Difficulty seeing in one or both eyes:
You may notice that your vision suddenly becomes blurred, you may see double or have blackened vision in one or both eyes.
Complications of Stroke
Stroke usually causes permanent or temporal damages in the body and this depends on how long your brain was starved of blood and the part of your brain that was affected.
Complications caused by stroke include:
Paralysis or inability to move:
Stroke can make you paralyzed on one side of your body or to lose control of certain muscles in your body. Physical therapy can help you regain control of your muscles.
Difficulties swallowing and talking:
A stroke will affect your ability to control the muscles in your throat and mouth, this will lead to dysarthria (difficulty in speaking clearly), dysphagia (difficulty eating or swallowing), aphasia (having difficulty with language, speaking and understanding speech), and also difficulty with reading and writing.
A speech therapy can help one overcome this.
Memory and difficulty thinking:
Many stroke patients experience some forms of memory loss, they might experience difficulty thinking, reasoning, understanding concept, and making judgments.
Stroke patients have more difficulties controlling their emotions than healthy people, some stroke patients even suffer from depression.
Most stroke patients have the feeling of pain, numbness, and other strange sensations in the part of the body affected by stroke. For instance, if the left side of your body is affected, you might have an uncomfortable tingling sensation in your left arm or left leg.
They might also be sensitive to changes in temperature, especially extreme cold. This is known as the central pain syndrome or central stroke pain and it develops several weeks after a stroke and it improves over time.
The pain is not caused by a physical injury but by a problem in the brain and there are few treatments for it.
Changes in self-care abilities and behaviour:
Stroke patients are more withdrawn, more impulsive, and less social than healthy people and they need help on a daily basis with house chores and grooming.
The success rate of treating these complications varies from person to person.
Risks Factors of Stroke
There are lots of factors that can increase your risks of stroke, some can also increase your risks of having a heart attack and most of these risk factors are treatable.
Below are some of the common risk factors of stroke:
- Use of illegal drugs such as methamphetamines and cocaine
- Overweight or obesity
- Excessive drinking
- Sedentary lifestyle
Medical risk factors of stroke are:
- Genetic factors: some people are genetically prone to this condition, it runs in some families.
- High blood pressure
- Cardiovascular diseases like heart defects, abnormal heart rhythm, heart infection, heart failure, etc.
- Obstructive sleep apnea
- Smoking cigarettes and exposure to second-hand smoke
- High levels of cholesterol
Other factors that increase your risks of stroke are:
- Age – people older than 55 have a greater risk of stroke than younger people
- Race – African have higher risks of stroke than other races
- Sex – men have higher risks of stroke than women and women usually have stroke when they are older and they are more likely to die of stroke than men.
- Hormones – the use of hormonal therapies or birth control pills and also increased levels of estrogen during pregnancy and childbirth can increase a woman’s risk of stroke.
How to Prevent Stroke?
Now, that you have known the risk factors of stroke, it would be easier to prevent them. If you are at risk of stroke, speak to a medical doctor and he/she will recommend healthy lifestyles that you can adopt to prevent you from ever coming down with a stroke.
If you’ve had a stroke or a TIA, these tips will prevent a reoccurrence, these tips can also help prevent heart disease and other cardiovascular diseases.
One of the most important things you have to do to reduce your risks of stroke is to control your blood pressure, especially if it is high.
You can look for natural ways to go about this if you are worried about being on drugs for a long time and its side effects.
Other things that can help you reduce your blood pressure is managing stress effectively, moderate exercise, reduce your intake of sodium chloride (table salt) and alcohol, and eat healthy and nutritious foods always.
Reduce your intake of saturated fats and cholesterol:
When your arteries burst, the body uses cholesterol to repair the damaged arteries. This can make the arteries narrowed or blocked completely.
Cholesterol and saturated fats also forms plaques in the body, so reducing your intake of these might help control the production of plaque. However, the liver still produces cholesterol whether you eat cholesterol-rich foods or not.
If you want to be on the safer side, just ensure that your arteries are safe, an effective way to prevent your arteries from tears and injuries is to avoid chlorinated water.
Chlorine scratches and injures your arteries and then the body uses cholesterol to repair those tears and injuries and this, in turn, leads to narrow arteries.
Quit smoking or tobacco use:
Smoking or inhaling second-hand smoke increases your risks of stroke and other cardiovascular diseases. When you quit or protect yourself from second-hand smoke, you reduce your risk of stroke.
Maintain a healthy weight:
Excessive body weight and obesity increases your risk of stroke, it sky rockets your blood pressure and it also increase your risks of diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
Losing weight, even if it’s as little as 10 pounds, will reduce your blood pressure and cholesterol levels and thereby reduce your risks of stroke.
Regularly engage in moderate exercise:
Aerobic or cardio exercises can reduce your risk of stroke by counteracting the effects of sedentary lifestyle which is now promoted by the modern lifestyle.
These exercises reduce high blood pressure, increase the levels of good cholesterol (high-density lipoprotein) and improve the overall health of your heart and blood vessels thereby reducing the risks of cardiovascular diseases.
They will also help you lose weight, reduce stress, and control diabetes. Try and engage in these exercises for at least 30 minutes daily, they include walking, swimming, bicycling, jogging, etc.
Walking is the best form of exercise you can engage in, try and walk for at least one hour daily.
Quit drinking or do it in moderation:
Heavy consumption of alcohol increases your risk of high blood pressure, hemorrhagic stroke, and ischemic stroke.
However, a little intake of alcohol, like a glass daily, can reduce the risk of blood clots and prevent ischemic stroke. Also note that alcohol can react with drugs you are taking.
Avoid illicit drugs:
Illegal drugs like methamphetamines and cocaine are well-known risk factors for stroke, TIA, and cardiovascular disease.
Cocaine narrows your arteries and reduces the flow of blood to major organs of your body.
Treat sleep disorders:
Sleep disorders like obstructive sleep apnea shouldn’t be taken for granted, it should be treated promptly because it can reduce the levels of oxygen in your body when you sleep at night.
When to See a Doctor
See a doctor immediately if you notice any of these signs or symptoms in a friend, colleague, or family member. Even if they disappear or fluctuate, think and act “FAST” and do the following.
- Face: Ask the person to smile, you will know it’s stroke if one side of the face drops
- Arms: Ask the person to raise both arms, if it is stroke, the person would find it difficult to raise one arm up or the arm would drift downward
- Speech: Say a simple phrase and ask the person to repeat after you, is his or her speech strange or slurred?
- Time: If you observe any of these symptoms, immediately rush the person to the hospital, don’t wait to see if the symptoms will stop because more damages in the brain is going on and every minute you waste counts.
The potential for disability and brain damage is higher when the stroke goes untreated for a long time.