Stroke occurs when a blood vessel to the brain is either blocked by a clot or bursts. When either happens, part of the brain cannot get the blood and oxygen it needs and begins to die. This abrupt interruption of the blood supply to the brain is why a stroke is sometimes called a "brain attack".
The two types of stroke are:
- An ischemic stroke, the most common type of stroke, usually results from plaque (a fatty substance that clogs the artery) or a blood clot. There are two types of clots that can cause a stroke:
- A clot that stays in place in the brain is called a thrombotic stroke. This is a blood clot that forms inside an artery that supplies blood to the brain.
- A clot (either blood or plaque) that breaks loose and moves through the bloodstream to the brain is called a cerebral embolism.
- A hemorrhagic stroke is caused by bleeding in the brain. This can occur when small blood vessels become weak and burst due to high blood pressure or aneurysm rupture. An aneurysm is a widening of an artery that creates a bulge, weakening the arterial vein wall and causing it to rupture. This may cause a sudden, very severe headache.
Stroke is the third most common cause of death for Americans, and the leading cause of adult disability. The WellStar Stroke Center, located in WellStar Cobb Hospital, is accredited by the Joint Commission as a Stroke Center of Excellence and holds Disease Specific Care Certification as a Primary Stroke Center. In addition, WellStar’s Stroke Center is nationally certified in stroke care by the Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities (CARF), an independent, nonprofit accreditor of health and human services.
Immediate care is vital to the successful treatment of a stroke. Familiarize yourself with stroke symptoms and get urgent help if you suspect someone has suffered a stroke. Stroke symptoms, which often appear suddenly, can be easily remembered using the F.A.S.T. acronym:
- (F) Facial droop or uneven smile
- (A) Arm/leg numbness or weakness, loss of coordination or balance
- (S) Slurred speech, difficulty speaking or understanding simple commands
- (T) Telephone 911 and get to the hospital immediately
- Sharp, unexplained headache
Not all of these symptoms will be apparent with every stroke. If any symptoms appear, get help immediately.
Many of the risk factors for stroke can be controlled with medication, medical attention, diet or exercise. Risk factors include:
- High blood pressure – the #1 risk factor for stroke
- Heart disease
- Atrial fibrillation (irregular heartbeat)
- High LDL (“bad”) cholesterol levels
- Low HDL (“good”) cholesterol levels
- Cigarette smoking
- Physical inactivity
- Cocaine and other drug use
- Alcohol abuse
Other risk factors that can’t be controlled or changed include:
- Age — The chance of having a stroke approximately doubles for each decade of life after age 55.
- Heredity – Stroke risk is greater if a family member has had a stroke.
- Race – African Americans are at higher risk of death from a stroke than Caucasians.
- Gender — Stroke is more common in men than in women.
- Prior stroke – The risk of stroke for someone who has already had one is many times that of a person who has not.
- Transient ischemic attack (TIA) – TIAs are "warning strokes" with stroke-like symptoms but no lasting damage.
- Heart attack — People who have had a heart attack are at higher risk of having a stroke.