By Tiffany Tseng. May 7th 2016

What Is Stroke?

Stroke is a medical condition that affects the blood vessels and arteries leading to and within the brain. It occurs when one or multiple blood vessels either become blocked or burst. As a result, the affected portion of the brain stops receiving oxygen and nutrients required for normal functioning, and the surrounding tissue becomes damaged or starts to die. If left untreated, stroke can lead to permanent brain damage, paralysis and death. In fact, this medical condition is the number three cause of death in the United States, behind heart disease and cancer. Around 140,000 Americans die of stroke every year.

Common stroke symptoms and warning signs include sudden physical numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg. Sometimes, only one side of the body will be severely affected. Since the condition disturbs the brain, the affected individual may have sudden trouble comprehending or understanding others and become extremely confused. Speech, vision, balance or physical coordination may also become out of sync. Some individuals may also experience an abrupt splitting headache with no known reason. If you or anyone around you is experiencing similar symptoms, then you should seek emergency care right away, since stroke is a time-sensitive condition that may become life-threatening or disabling if not treated within a certain time frame.

There are generally two types of stroke: an ischemic stroke or a hemorrhagic stroke. An ischemic stroke occurs when a blood vessel in the brain becomes blocked due to a clot, and is more common in the elderly. Hemorrhagic stroke happens when a blood vessel leaks or bursts in the brain due to either a blockage or a weak spot in the vessel. In both cases, the surrounding brain tissue becomes damaged and can die. There is no way to predict where or when a stroke may occur, and it is possible for multiple strokes to occur simultaneously.

When a patient is admitted to emergency care, the doctor will first confirm the presence of stroke and diagnose the stroke type before implementing any treatment. The two most common forms of diagnosis includes the CT scan and the MRI scan, which produce detailed images of the brain or the surrounding blood vessels so the physician can pinpoint the stroke site. Additional tests may also be run to further identify the underlying cause and source of the stroke, and to help prevent future episodes. Once the type of stroke is diagnosed, the doctor will implement the appropriate treatment. For ischemic strokes, the doctor will try to remove or dissolve the clot and restore blood flow to the brain. For hemorrhagic strokes, the doctor will try to drain the blood accumulation at the stroke site, and try to repair the leak. In more serious cases, surgery is an effective option to resolve the condition.

Since stroke mainly targets the blood vessels, individuals with heart, blood or artery problems are more prone to the condition than others. This includes, but are not limited to, people with high blood pressure (hypertension), high cholesterol, heart disease, arteriole disease, diabetes and obesity. Individuals with a family history of such diseases are more susceptible than others. People who had past transient ischemic attacks (TIA), also known as "mini strokes," also have a higher risk for a full-blown episode.

While certain uncontrollable risk factors, such as family history, age, gender and ethnicity, can make an individual more susceptible to stroke, there are still preventative steps and lifestyle changes a person can make to decrease his or her risk of having stroke. Normally, preventative measures that protect the heart, blood and arteries can also help prevent stroke. Incorporating an exercise routine and adopting a healthy, well-balanced diet low in sodium and sugar can help maintain a healthy weight. Cutting out cigarette smoking, excessive drinking and illegal drug use also helps keep stroke at bay.

If you have not already, then see your medical doctor today for your annual physical exam and blood test, and ask him or her about preventative measures to ward off this serious medical condition.

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