Know the signs; take steps to take to prevent strokes

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A stroke is caused by sudden loss of oxygen to an area of the brain.

This may be caused by obstruction of a vessel or by bleeding. A severe stroke may cause death. Milder strokes result in damage to the area of the brain involved. Symptoms of stroke are weakness on one side of the body, difficulty talking, drooping of one side of the face, headache and vision problems.

The type of stroke, caused by obstruction, is called an ischemic stroke. It can be treated with “clot-busting” medication and the symptoms may improve, dramatically. You only have a few hours after a stroke, to benefit from this medicine.

If bleeding is the cause, it is called a hemorrhagic stroke. The doctors cannot use “clot-busting” medications for hemorrhagic strokes.

If you or a loved one is having a stroke, they must call 911 and go the emergency room by ambulance. If the medical staff diagnoses a stroke, then they quickly decide if it is ischemic or hemorrhagic.

Emergency CAT scan will show if there is any bleeding. ERs have a protocol for treating ischemic stroke. Usually, the doctors will treat with intravenous tPA (tissue plasminogen activator – the clot-busting drug). The drug will be given through a vein in the arm. They may also give oral medication to help slow the obstruction. 

If the stroke is shown to be hemorrhagic, the protocol will involve decreasing pressure in the head, blocking anticoagulants the patient may be taking, and then surgery may be considered. A neurosurgeon would clamp off bleeding vessels and other procedures to stop the bleeding. 

Risk factors for stroke include being overweight, untreated high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, smoking cigarettes, drinking excessive alcohol and sleep apnea. Therefore, if you want to prevent a stroke, look carefully at all these factors. Eat a healthy diet, lose some weight, give up cigarettes and get lots of exercise. Especially get your blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar down in the normal range. Anticoagulants (blood thinners) play a role in some strokes. It is best to discuss this with your doctor.

Transient ischemic attacks (TIA’s) have similar symptoms of strokes, but the symptoms go away in a short time. TIA’s are a warning signal for stroke and your doctor will help you with your risk factors. Atrial fibrillation is a common rhythm disturbance and strokes may be related. Again, this is a subject to discuss with your doctor.

After a stroke, there may be some permanent damage. Often there is weakness of the arm and leg on one side of the body. This may make it difficult to walk or to get around at all. Therapy for these movement problems will begin right after a stroke, while the patient is still in acute care. Strokes may affect the patient’s ability to swallow and testing for that will be done in the hospital. Some stroke victims have aphasia, which is a type of language problem – trouble understanding or communicating. Speech therapy is often helpful. 

After a hospitalization for a stroke, you will be sent to rehabilitation to get all the therapy that you need to restore as much function as possible. You and your family will need to consider whether or not you can live independently and whether or not you can drive.

If you stay in your home, you may need some home improvements, such as grab bars in the bathroom. You also may need to have someone with you, either all the time, or intermittently. Families should work together to find the best situation for living after a stroke.

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