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Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Avoiding or Lessening the Effects of a Stroke

An article in the May 2010 issue of the NIH (National Institutes of Health) News in Health describes how to avoid a stroke or, if you have one, how to recognize it and take immediate action to completely avoid, or at least lessen any lasting effects.

A stroke is a failure of normal blood flow to the brain, which can damage and destroy brain cells. There are two types of stroke:
  • Ischemic Stroke - the arteries feeding the brain are blocked, usually by a blood clot
  • Hemorrhagic stroke - broken or leaking blood vessels fail to supply oxygen to brain cells
Ischemic stroke accounts for about 80%, and hemorrhagic stroke about 20% of cases. Unfortunately, the treatment for the two types of stroke are opposite, so treating for the wrong kind of stroke can actually increase the damage to brain cells.

Signs of an ischemic stroke include sudden weakness or numbness of the face, arm, or leg, especially if it occurs on one side of the body, and/or difficulty in walking, talking, seeing and thinking. If you have any of these symptoms, it is important to be taken to an emergency room immediately (don’t drive yourself) because clot-busting drugs, if taken within 3 hours of the onset of symptoms, can stop brain damage. Unfortunately, only 2% of stroke victims actually get this effective treatment within the optimal time window. If given too late, the drug can actually increase damage. It is also important to get prompt treatment even if symptoms disappear quickly, because mini-strokes, also called transient ischemic attacks (TIAs), are a sign that a major stroke may occur soon afterwards.

The most common symptom of hemorrhagic stroke is a very sudden and painful headache, and prompt surgery may be required to repair a damaged blood vessel feeding the brain.
Some cases of partial or complete paralysis on one side of the face are not caused by stroke but by Bell’s Palsy, a nerve disorder that is, in most cases, temporary. However, only a medical professional can distinguish between Bell’s Palsy and a stroke. In both illnesses, immediate treatment produces the best outcome, so an emergency room visit is required in either case.

A healthy lifestyle can lessen your risk of a stroke. By exercising, eating healthfully (especially limiting foods high in saturated fat, cholesterol, and sodium), not smoking, and keeping your weight under control you can dramatically reduce your risk of a stroke. Our web site has more specific details on avoiding a stroke.
Bottom Line
To greatly reduce your risk of a stroke, follow a healthy lifestyle. But if you do develop stroke symptoms, seek immediate medical attention to avoid permanent damage and long-term disability.

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