It’s a leading cause of adult disability in the U.S.

It’s a leading cause of adult disability in the U.S.

It’s been said that the human brain has 100 billion neurons, each neuron connected to 10 thousand other neurons.

Because of its complexity, it doesn’t take a lot to harm your brain. A concussion is one common form of brain injury.

Stroke is another common brain trauma — one that can be fatal. Every 40 seconds, another American has a stroke. Every year, more than a quarter million people are left with a disability after suffering a stroke.

So what is a stroke, and what do you need to know?

A stroke happens when the blood flow to the brain stops. Then brain cells quickly start dying. Stroke damage to the brain can cause problems throughout the body. Stroke can result in problems speaking, swallowing, moving and remembering things. Stroke can also cause emotional problems for the patient.

There are two ways a stroke or blood stoppage can happen:

  • A blood clot can block or plug a blood vessel in the brain. This is an ischemic stroke — the most common type. When the blood flow is temporarily blocked, this is known as a mini stroke or transient ischemic attack (TIA).
  • A blood vessel can break and cause bleeding into the brain. This is a hemorrhagic stroke.

If the blood clot forms in the brain, this is a thrombotic stroke. If the clot forms elsewhere in the body and travels through the bloodstream to the brain, it’s known as an embolic stroke.

It’s important for adults to understand the signs of a stroke and what to do if they’re noticed. You may notice them in someone else or yourself.

Effective treatment is available, but time is essential. As health care professionals, we can’t over stress the importance of timely response to a possible stroke.

Stroke symptoms

To remember symptoms of a stroke, think B.E.F.A.S.T.  Every second counts.

B = Balance Does the person have a sudden loss of balance?
E = Eyes Does the person have trouble seeing out of one or both eyes?
F = Face Can the person smile? Does one side of the face sag or droop?
A = Arms Can the person raise both arms? Or does one arm drift downward?
S = Speech Is the person’s speech slurred or strange sounding? Can the person repeat a single sentence?
T = Terrible Headache Does the person have a severe, painful or throbbing headache?

In addition to these tests, take note if the person has trouble with:

  • Walking, dizziness or balance
  • Vision, seeing in one or both eyes
  • A sudden severe headache with no known cause

If you notice these symptoms, safely get the person to the nearest hospital or Primary Stroke Center immediately.

Stroke treatment

Stroke is the leading cause of adult disability in the U.S. The goal of treatment is to help patients overcome any disabilities that result. A number of health care professionals will likely be involved in therapies, which can include:

  • Physical therapy — Uses training and exercises to help a patient regain physical skills such as walking, sitting, standing and laying down.
  • Occupational therapy — Involves exercise and training to help a patient regain skills such as eating, drinking, bathing, dressing, cooking and using a toilet.
  • Speech therapy — Helps the patient relearn swallowing along with speaking.
  • Psychological therapy — Helps the patient cope with emotional challenges such as depression, frustration and anger.

In some cases, surgery may be appropriate to reduce a patient’s risk or to treat stroke. A health care professional can review all the appropriate treatment options with each patient.

Stroke prevention

As with many health conditions, the best treatment for stroke is prevention. You can reduce your risk of stroke by controlling these risk factors:

  • Smoking
  • Diabetes
  • High blood pressure/hypertension
  • Heart disease
  • High cholesterol

Your health care professional can help you plan how to control your risks and can explain other risks you may have such as:

  • Age (risk increases with age)
  • Gender (women are at greater risk)
  • Personal and family history
  • Race (African-Americans, Hispanics, American Indians and Alaskan natives are at higher risk)

We can’t control the last group of risks, but addressing the risks you can control can reduce your risks for stroke.

Early stroke diagnosis and treatment can reduce brain damage associated with stroke and help people return to their normal activities sooner and with fewer long-term effects.

Take our Stroke Risk Assessment to estimate your chance of experiencing one and learn about the ways you could minimize it.

Dr. Rehan Sajjad is a neurologist at Critical Care Med/AMG Specialist in Milwaukee, WI.

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About the Author

Dr. Rehan Sajjad
Dr. Rehan Sajjad

Rehan Sajjad, MD is a neurologist at Critical Care Med/AMG Specialist in Milwaukee, WI.