Stroke: Causes, Symptoms, Risk Factors and Treatment
The statistics associated with stroke are sobering. In the USA alone, some 600,000 people a year suffer from some type of stroke for the first time.
A stroke occurs when there is a disruption to the blood supply, either from a blockage in a blood vessel or when an artery ruptures and bleeds. This results in loss of blood flow and little or no oxygen getting to the brain.
Without that oxygen, the cells in the brain begin to die within a matter of minutes if medical assistance is not received.
Types of Stroke
There are three types of stroke:
- Ischemic strokes are the most common, accounting for around 87% of cases. These happen when the blood supply feeding the brain is stopped abruptly, usually because of something like a clot.
- Hemorrhagic strokes occur when the blood vessel to the brain ruptures. This can happen because of high blood pressure or an aneurysm, a bulge in the artery that can suddenly break open.
- Transient ischemic attacks (TIAs) occur when the blood supply to the brain is blocked for a short time and then resumes and is sometimes referred to as a ‘mini-stroke’. While less serious, this is usually an indicator of a future ischemic stroke and the patient needs to be carefully managed.
Causes and Risk Factors
As we age, our arteries can narrow because of deposits of fat known as plaque. These deposits can then break off and form clots or blockages in certain areas that can reduce or completely stop the blood supply to the brain.
Our arteries can also become weakened in certain areas which means they are more likely to rupture. This can cause a bulge, usually near an area where the artery branches.
Some risk factors are avoidable and others aren’t when it comes to stroke. Age is one that we have no control over – the older we get the more likely we are to suffer from conditions such as high blood pressure and narrowing of the arteries.
Other factors are controllable. If we drink too much alcohol on a regular basis or have a bad diet and don’t exercise properly, it can cause damage to the arteries over time and increase the risk of a stroke. Individuals who have diabetes or who are obese also have a higher probability of either a stroke or developing coronary heart disease.
The brain is the control room of the body and it requires a continuous supply of fresh, oxygenated blood to operate. The symptoms of stroke will therefore show up as effects on different parts of the body and may also impact cognitive ability.
These symptoms often include feeling weak on one side of the body in areas like the arms, face or legs.
- In a severe stroke, there may be paralysis and the individual might be unable to speak or have difficulty doing so.
- The person may be confused or have slurred speech and their vision might become blurred.
- They could have difficulty walking with loss of coordination.
- They may also suffer from severe headaches or dizziness.
If a stroke is suspected, it’s critical to get appropriate medical assistance as quickly as possible. Delay can cause brain damage, paralysis and even death. The role of the medical team is not only to determine whether an individual is having a stroke but what type it is and provide the right treatment quickly.
The first step is to carry out a physical examination such as checking blood pressure and listening to the heart. Doctors will also take blood tests to check blood sugar levels and to see how quickly blood clots.
A CT scan will reveal if the individual has a clot and this process can involve injecting a dye into the blood so that details show up more clearly. Other diagnostic tools include MRI scans, carotid ultrasounds, cerebral angiograms and echocardiograms.
Treatment of Stroke
Simply put, the quicker the treatment, the better the outcome will be. What treatment is provided, however, depends on the type of stroke.
If it’s an ischemic stroke, the medical team will administer IV medication to break up the clot which greatly improves the chances of survival. It can also be removed directly from the brain using a stent, particularly if the clot is large.
For hemorrhagic strokes, the first steps are to reduce the bleeding of the artery and control fluid build up in the brain. If the area where the bleeding is taking place is large, surgery or a process like coiling is employed to close up or block the bleeding artery.
After treatment, the process of recovery will depend on how serious the damage to the brain was. In some cases this can involve a lengthy rehabilitation program to help the patient regain the use of certain limbs or learn how to speak again.
Chelation Therapy and Stroke
The use of chelation therapy can reduce the likelihood of stroke. This form of treatment, which has no side effects, is offered here at Miskawaan Health. Chelation therapy reduces the amount of calcium in the arteries and subsequently prevents them from hardening, resulting in improved cardiac health and a reduced risk of stroke. The treatment is administered via IV infusion, dissolving the calcium in the arteries which is then excreted in the urine, perspiration or the lymphatic system.