What is a Stroke?
A stroke, also referred to as a cerebrovascular accident (CVA) is the rapid loss of brain function due to a disturbance in the blood supply to the brain. Strokes are typically associated with old age and smoking, but they can also occur in younger people or those who do not fit into any high risk groups. Stroke may be caused by thrombosis (where blood clots form), hemorrhage (bleeding) or embolism (where bits of material break away from other parts of the body).
During a stroke, cells within different areas of the brain are deprived of oxygen and other essential nutrients carried in blood-flow. This causes these cells to stop working and eventually die. As the cells around the original damaged area die, this causes a specific type of brain damage known as a stroke. Strokes can also occur due to bleeding within the brain; these are called hemorrhagic strokes. Strokes generally occur over a period of minutes to hours.
Symptoms can be very subtle and begin suddenly. They may include:
- Drooping face or paralysis on one side of the body
- Slurred speech
- Sudden loss of vision, sensation, or understanding
- Severe headache with no known cause
- Weakness or abnormal muscle tone on one side of the body
In diagnosing stroke, special attention is given to understanding the patient’s symptoms and medical history. A exam will be conducted by our neurology team to evaluate the patient’s strength, sensation, reflexes and mental status. In patients with milder forms of stroke that might be amenable to intervention, CT or MRI scans of the head are performed to determine whether there has been hemorrhage or infarction in one of the brain regions supplied by a specific artery.
Treatment options depend upon several factors including age, overall health and cause. Stroke patients need to be under medical supervision with close observation and testing during the first 48 hours following a stroke, since some symptoms may not be noticeable immediately.
- Medication – Used to prevent blood clots from forming or dissolving blood clots already present
- Neurosurgery – In cases where bleeding is causing symptoms, surgery may need to be performed to remove the clot causing the bleed. This procedure is known as an endovascular coiling procedure.
- Rehabilitation – An important part of recovery for many stroke survivors who can often recover lost functions if they receive the necessary therapies in time. Stroke complications are more likely when stroke strikes older adults, people with severe strokes, people who do not seek treatment immediately after a stroke occurs and people who have another condition along with their stroke(known as a co-occurring condition), such as heart disease.