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A stroke is damage to the brain that occurs when a blood vessel in the brain bursts or is blocked by a blood clot. Without blood and the oxygen it carries, part of the brain starts to die. The part of the body controlled by the damaged area of the brain can't work properly.
Brain damage can start within minutes of a stroke. But quick treatment can help limit the damage and increase the chance of a full recovery.
What causes a stroke depends on the type of stroke.
There are two types of stroke:
FAST is a simple way to remember the main symptoms of stroke. These symptoms happen suddenly. So knowing what to look for helps you know when to call for medical help.
FAST stands for:
Other stroke symptoms include loss of balance or trouble walking, trouble seeing out of one or both eyes, sudden confusion, sudden trouble understanding simple statements, fainting, a seizure, and a sudden, severe headache.
When you know what stroke symptoms are, you will know when it's important to call for medical help. Quick treatment can limit damage from a stroke, and it may save your life or someone else's life.
The first test the doctor will do in the emergency room is a CT scan or MRI of the head. This can show if there is bleeding. Other tests may be done to check the stroke symptoms and check for other health problems.
For an ischemic stroke, you may get a clot-dissolving medicine called tissue plasminogen activator (TPA). You may get other medicines to prevent blood clots. A procedure may be done to remove the clot and restore blood flow.
For a hemorrhagic stroke, you may get medicine or a transfusion with parts of blood. This can stop the bleeding in the brain. You may have surgery or a procedure to repair an aneurysm or relieve pressure on the brain. You may get medicines to control blood pressure, brain swelling, and other problems.
After either kind of stroke, treatment shifts to preventing future strokes and to your recovery. A stroke rehabilitation program can help you recover and learn ways to adapt to changes caused by a stroke. Medicine and a heart-healthy lifestyle can help prevent another stroke. Your doctor will help you manage other conditions that put you at risk for another stroke.
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There are two types of stroke: ischemic (say "iss-KEE-mick") strokes and hemorrhagic (say "heh-muh-RAW-jick") strokes. Ischemic strokes are the more common type.
An ischemic stroke is caused by a blood clot that blocks blood flow to the brain.
Low blood pressure may also cause an ischemic stroke, but this is less common. Low blood pressure results in reduced blood flow to the brain. It may be caused by narrowed or diseased arteries, a heart attack, a large loss of blood, or a severe infection.
A hemorrhagic stroke is caused by bleeding in or around the brain.
Other less common causes include head or neck injuries, certain diseases, and radiation treatment for cancer in the neck or brain.
A risk factor is anything that makes you more likely to have a particular health problem.
Risk factors for stroke that you can manage or change include:
Risk factors you can't change include:
Your doctor can help you know your risk. Then you and your doctor can talk about whether to take steps to lower it.
Here are some things you can do to help prevent a stroke.
Symptoms of a stroke happen suddenly. If you have symptoms of a stroke, even if they go away quickly, call 911 or other emergency services right away.
General symptoms of a stroke include:
FAST is a simple way to remember the main symptoms of stroke. Recognizing these symptoms helps you know when to call for medical help.
Brain damage can begin within minutes. That's why it's so important to know the symptoms of stroke and to act fast. Quick treatment can help limit damage to the brain and increase the chance of a full recovery.
Symptoms can vary depending on whether the stroke is caused by a blood clot (ischemic stroke) or bleeding (hemorrhagic stroke). They also depend on where the stroke occurs in the brain, and how bad it is.
A stroke occurs when a blood vessel to the brain bursts or is blocked by a blood clot. The blood supply to part of the brain is reduced. Without blood and the oxygen it supplies, the nerve cells in that part of the brain die within minutes. As a result, the part of the body controlled by those cells cannot work properly.
The effects of a stroke may range from mild to severe. They may get better, or they may last the rest of your life. A stroke can affect many things, including vision, speech, behaviour, thought processes, and your ability to move.
The problems you have after a stroke depend on what part of your brain was affected and how much damage the stroke caused. They may include problems with:
Call 911 or other emergency services immediately if you have signs of a stroke:
Call 911 if you have symptoms that seem like a stroke, even if they go away quickly.
Signs of a transient ischemic attack (TIA) are similar to signs of a stroke. But TIA symptoms usually disappear after 10 to 20 minutes, although they may last longer. There is no way to tell whether the symptoms are caused by a stroke or by TIA, so emergency medical care is needed for both conditions.
Call your doctor now if you:
If you've had symptoms of a TIA in the past but you haven't talked with your doctor about it, call your doctor now.
Call your doctor for an appointment if you:
The first test the doctor will do in the emergency room is a CT scan or MRI of the head. This can show if there is bleeding in the brain. The results help the doctor know if the stroke is ischemic or hemorrhagic.
The doctor will also do an exam to check the stroke symptoms.
Other tests may include:
Later, you may have other tests to check for problems with your arteries or heart.
Treatment depends on the type of stroke: ischemic or hemorrhagic.
For this type of stroke, treatment focuses on restoring blood flow to the brain.
For this type of stroke, treatment focuses on controlling bleeding, reducing pressure in the brain, and stabilizing vital signs, especially blood pressure.
After either kind of stroke and after your condition is stable, treatment shifts to preventing future strokes and other problems and to your recovery.
Here are some ways to care for yourself after a stroke.
One of the best things you can do to prevent another stroke is to take a medicine called a blood thinner. These medicines don't really thin your blood. They work by helping to prevent blood clots. Blood clots can cause a stroke if they block a blood vessel in the brain. So when you prevent blood clots, you help prevent a stroke.
Antiplatelets are a type of blood thinner. They help keep platelets from sticking together and forming blood clots. (A platelet is a type of blood cell.)
Examples of antiplatelets include:
Another type of blood thinner, called an anticoagulant, may be used if you have a health problem that raises your risk of blood clots.
Examples of anticoagulants include:
Be sure to learn how to take your medicine safely. Blood thinners can cause serious bleeding problems.
Statins and other cholesterol medicines can lower the amount of cholesterol in your blood. If you have too much cholesterol, it starts to build up in blood vessels. And that's how most heart and blood flow problems, including strokes, start.
Statins also reduce inflammation around the cholesterol buildup. This may lower the risk that the buildup will break apart and cause a blood clot that can lead to a stroke.
Examples of statins include:
Other cholesterol medicines that can help lower stroke risk are cholesterol absorption inhibitors and PCSK9-inhibitors.
If you have high blood pressure, you may take medicines to lower it. High blood pressure can damage blood vessels. This damage can lead to hardening of the arteries, which can cause a stroke.
If you were taking blood pressure pills before, your doctor may have you keep taking them. Or your doctor may have you take a different type.
Blood pressure medicines include:
Taking care of someone who has had a stroke can be hard for many reasons. Some concerns may include:
If you have concerns, the stroke rehab team can help. The team can:
Even if you can't provide physical help, your support is still key to their recovery.
Here are some ways to help.
You are an important part of their recovery after a stroke.
CitationsBoulanger JM, et al. (2018). Canadian stroke best practice recommendations for acute stroke management: Prehospital, emergency department, and acute inpatient stroke care, 6th ed., update 2018. International Journal of Stroke, published online July 18, 2018. DOI: 10.1177/1747493018786616. Accessed August 7, 2018.
Adaptation Date: 5/17/2023
Adapted By: Alberta Health Services
Adaptation Reviewed By: Alberta Health Services
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