Stroke: Brain Attack Causes, Symptoms, And Prevention
Stroke (a.k.a: Brain Attack or Cerebrovascular Accident) occurs when there is reduced or interrupted blood supply to the brain. Stroke is a medical emergency that would require immediate medical treatment. Stroke can also occur due to the rupture of the blood vessels, which hampers the oxygen and nutrient supply to the brain tissues.
What is a Stroke?
A stroke is one of the serious, life-threatening conditions that occur when there is lack of blood supply to the brain or bleeding within the brain. Stroke can be identified by sudden symptoms, such as a headache, vision problems, numbness, confusion, and slurred speech.
The two different types of stroke include:
- Ischemic Stroke – Loss of blood flow to the part of the brain
- Hemorrhagic Stroke – Weakened blood vessels rupture and cause bleeding in the brain
Sometimes, the symptoms of stroke resolve within few minutes to 24 hours. Such stroke is termed as a transient ischemic attack or mini-stroke.
What are the Causes of Stroke?
A stroke is caused due to different reasons, such as blocked blood supply to the brain, rupture of a blood vessel or temporarily blocked arteries. The main causes of stroke include:
Ischaemic Stroke: More than 80% of the strokes are ischemic strokes. In this type, the arteries that supply blood to the brain are blocked or narrowed. This prevents oxygen supply to the brain. Ischaemic strokes can be of two forms, which include:
- Thrombotic Stroke: This type of stroke occurs when clots block one of the arteries that supply blood to the brain. These clots may occur due to the plaque (fatty deposits) in the arteries.
- Embolic Stroke: An embolic stroke occurs when the clot that is formed away from the brain, finds its way through the bloodstream and reaches the brain arteries.
Hemorrhagic Stroke: Hemorrhagic stroke is caused when a blood vessel in the brain gets ruptured and bleeding takes place within the brain. Hemorrhagic stroke can be of two types, they include:
- Intracerebral Hemorrhage: This type of stroke occurs when the blood vessel in the brain bursts open and causes damage to the brain tissue.
- Subarachnoid Hemorrhage: In this type of stroke, the artery (blood vessel) that bursts within the brain causes bleeding in the pia matter (space between the brain and surrounding membrane).
Transient Ischemic Attack: Transient ischemic attack (TIA) or mini-stroke is a small episode of brain dysfunction, which usually lasts for few minutes. This causes temporary symptoms and does not cause spontaneous brain damage.
Symptoms of Stroke:
The symptoms of stroke can be observed as the person gets a stroke. The following are the signs and symptoms of stroke:
- Unusual weakness
- Numbness or loss of movement on one side of the body
- Problems with speaking, walking or coordination
- Severe headache
- Blurred vision in one or both eyes
Based on the changes that occur, one must keep a check on FAST symptoms, which means:
- Face drooping
- Arm weakness
- Speech difficulty
- Time to call up an emergency
Risk Factors for Stroke:
The risk factors associated with the lifestyle measures can be controlled to some extent. Having one or more number of risk factors increases the chances of stroke. The factors that increase the risk of developing stroke are:
- The risk of stroke increases with the age of an individual
- Men are at a higher risk of getting stroke attacks than women
- Individuals with a family history of stroke have higher chances of getting a stroke
- Certain medical conditions, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, fibro-muscular dysplasia, and high blood cholesterol levels increase the risk of stroke attack
- Smoking increases the risk of stroke by reducing oxygen in the blood
- Overweight people are more prone to the risk of getting a stroke
- Lack of exercise can increase the risk of stroke
- Drinking more amount of alcohol can increase the risk of stroke
- People consuming a high-fat diet are more prone to the risk of stroke
- Individuals with a history of peripheral artery disease, carotid artery disease, or atrial fibrillation are at a higher risk of stroke attack
Complications of Stroke:
Based on the duration of the stroke and for how long the brain lacks oxygen supply. A stroke can lead to complications, such as:
- Loss of muscle movement
- Difficulty in talking or swallowing
- Sensitivity to temperature changes
- Memory loss
- Behavioral changes
- Chest and urinary tract infections
- Loss of bladder control
Diagnosis of Stroke:
To diagnose stroke, the doctor would discuss the onset and duration of symptoms with the patient or patient’s attendant. This helps to evaluate the patient’s current health status. The doctor would also measure the blood pressure and check the pulse rate to see if there is an irregular heartbeat. Later, the doctor would recommend the following tests to diagnose the condition:
- Blood Tests: A sample of the blood is collected to obtain certain values, such as blood sugar levels. Blood cholesterol levels, and certain enzymes in the blood. This helps to rule out other possible causes of the symptoms.
- Computerized Tomography (CT) Scan: In this procedure, the doctor injects a special dye into the patient’s vein. This creates a detailed image of the blood vessels that carry blood to the brain and helps to identify the presence of hemorrhage or tumor.
- Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI): MRI scan utilizes magnetic and radio waves to create images of the brain. It helps to identify the damage caused to the brain tissue and cells.
- Carotid Ultrasound: Carotid ultrasound creates images of carotid arteries in the neck. It helps to determine the blood flow through carotid arteries and fatty deposits (plaques).
- Cerebral Angiogram: In this procedure, the doctor inserts a catheter through a small incision and then injects a dye through the blood vessels. The test helps to assess the blood flow in the arteries of the neck and brain.
Treatment of Stroke:
Stroke is a medical emergency that usually requires prompt treatment. The doctor would recommend one or more of the following treatment options:
- The doctor would prescribe antiplatelet medications, such as aspirin, clopidogrel, and dipyridamole to prevent further chances of clot formation.
- The doctor prescribes anticoagulant medicines, such as warfarin, edoxaban, dabigatran, and apixaban to reduce the risk of further blood clots.
- In case of high blood pressure, the doctor would prescribe drugs belonging to the class of drugs, such as calcium channel blockers, angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors, thiazide diuretics, alpha and beta blockers.
Carotid Endarterectomy: Carotid endarterectomy involves the removal of plaques from the blood vessels in the neck.
Angioplasty and Placement of Stents: During the surgery, the doctor will use an inflated balloon to open the narrowed artery. The doctor will then place a stent to keep the artery expanded.
Surgical Repair of Blood Vessels: In case of hemorrhagic strokes, the doctor recommends one of the following procedures to treat the blood vessel abnormalities. They include:
- Endovascular embolization
- Surgical clipping
- Surgical AVM removal
- Stereotactic radiosurgery
Prevention of Stroke:
Maintaining a healthy lifestyle is one of the most effective ways to prevent stroke. The following are some of the self-care measures that prevent the risk of having a stroke:
- Avoid smoking and excessive consumption of alcohol
- Maintain a healthy weight by practicing certain regular exercises
- Have a regular check on blood sugar and cholesterol levels
- Ensure eating a healthy diet rich in fruits and vegetables
- Stay active and lead a stress free life
- Avoid eating foods rich in fats and oils