A brain stroke occurs when one of the brain parts is deprived from oxygen-rich blood due to various mechanisms. Usually a brain stroke occurs when one of the arteries is blocked either because of the narrowing of the small arteries within the brain or the hardening of the arteries that lead to the brain (what is called atherosclerosis). In some cases, a brain stroke may be a result of an embolism which travelled from the heart to the brain. Strokes can be either ischaemic (when it is caused by a blood clot) or haemorrhagic (when ruptured aneurysms bleed into to brain).
Signs and symptoms.Every stroke is different. The symptoms and effects vary according to the type of stroke, the part of the brain affected and the size of the damaged area. For some people the effects are severe, for some mild. Usually the symptoms come on suddenly but they may come on during sleep. Usually injury to one side of the brain affects the opposite side of the body.
In the case of a transient ischaemic attack (TIA) (“mini-stroke”) the symptoms disappear within 24 hours but otherwise tend to be permanent. The numbness or weakness of the face, arm and leg on one side of the body, trouble seeing, talking or understanding along with severe headaches are the first stroke signs. Patients are usually confused, may lose balance or coordination and have trouble walking and they feel dizzy. The stroke is a medical emergency so recognizing the signs as soon as they occur is very important for the patient’s life.
Treatment.Medication is available for treating brain stroke. Heparin or aspirin are recommended for patients who have suffered from a stroke due to their ability of thinning the blood. However, the tissue plasminogen activator (or TPA) is the most common treatment for brain stroke. It actually consists in injecting TPA into a vein of the arm as soon as possible since the earlier it is administered, the better the results are.
Rehabilitation. The most important and difficult part of the treatment is the stroke recovery. As soon as the patient is no longer acutely ill he or she must follow rehabilitation therapy in order to regain his or her functional abilities. Therapy should be followed either at a rehabilitation specialized hospital or at a nursing facility. During recovery, the patient will follow speech therapy to regain his or her ability to talk and swallow, occupational therapy in order to regain dexterity in the arms, and physical therapy to improve his or her strength and walking. Rehabilitation process includes family education intended to orient the family considering the challenges they will face.
Prevention.Stroke prevention implies avoiding the main risk factors. However, a part of these factors may be controlled by the individual but some others cannot such as age, gender, family history or history of stroke or TIAs. Among the risk factors that the patients can control are the blood pressure, the cholesterol levels, diabetes, obesity or being overweight, smoking or lack of physical activity. Individuals who are overweight or have diabetes have to at least try keeping under control the high blood pressure or high blood cholesterol and they certainly have to quit smoking or abusing alcohol (if that is the case). Stress is also a risk factor for stroke and trying to avoid it is another step in stroke prevention.
Preventing stroke is the best a patient could do. Persons at risk should regularly check their blood pressure and cholesterol levels and try keeping them under control. A stroke usually happens with no warning so it is very important that individuals that may suffer from a stroke follow their doctor’s instructions.