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Understanding strokes Understanding strokes
A stroke, known as a cerebrovascular accident (CVA) in the medical field, is like a heart attack that occurs in the brain instead of... Understanding strokes

by Kimberly Allen R.N.

A stroke, known as a cerebrovascular accident (CVA) in the medical field, is like a heart attack that occurs in the brain instead of the heart.  Like the heart the brain requires a continuous supply of fresh oxygenated blood for all the cells to function.  Should the blood carrying the fresh oxygen be unable to get through to all those cells in the brain then the cells die.  A stroke like a heart attack occurs when the oxygen doesn’t reach the cells and they die, except that in a stroke it’s brain cells that die.  strokes are the second most common cause of death worldwide, only heart disease ranks higher.  Strokes are more common in men than women, however the death rate from strokes is higher in women.  Some researchers believe that is because women live longer they are usually older when they suffer a stroke.
Many of the same things that increase your risk of a heart attack also increase your risk of having a stroke.  Next to age high blood pressure is one of the most common factors that can lead to a stroke.  Other things that can also increase your chances of having a stroke including smoking as well as heavy alcohol consumption and being over weight including obesity.  Diabetes and high cholesterol levels can also significantly increase your chances of having a stroke, especially if they are not under control.  Another factor that many people don’t think about is being inactive.  people with a family history of either heart attacks or stroke also have a significantly higher chance of having a stroke, as well as those over 55 years of age.
There are three types of strokes, ischemic, hemorrhagic, and transient ischemic attacks.
1.  Ischemic strokes result when an artery in your brain becomes either narrow or completely blocked causing the blood flow to be severely impaired.  Approximately 85% of all stroke are of this type.  the 2 types of ischemic strokes are thrombotic stroke which occurs when a blood clot forms in one of the arteries in your brain, and embolic strokes which occur when there is a blood clot somewhere else in your body and a piece breaks off and travels through the blood stream until it is caught up in one of the
smaller arteries of your brain and inhibits blood flow.
2. Hemorrhagic strokes happen when one of the blood vessels in your brain is leaking or ruptures.  This type usually occur because of hypertension or aneurysms.  The 2 types of hemorrhagic stroke are intracerebral hemorrhage which occurs when a blood vessel in your brain ruptures and the blood flows out into the surrounding tissue causing damage to the cells, and subarachnoid hemorrhage which is when one of the arteries on or near the surface  of your brain ruptures and the blood flows between your skull and the surface of your brain.  These types of strokes are almost always caused by aneurysms.
3.  Transient ischemic attacks or TIA’s are frequently referred to as mini strokes.  TIA’s occur when there is a temporary reduction in blood flow to a portion of your brain that causes symptoms similar to a stroke.  TIA’s are caused by a partial blockage in an artery either by a clot or a piece of a clot and left untreated usually lead to a stroke.
There are 5 major symptoms of a stroke, they occur suddenly without warning.
1. Numbness and/or weakness in your face, arm or leg on one side of your body accompanied by some loss of voluntary movement and/or sensation.
2. Confusion, difficulty speaking and understanding speech.
3. Sudden onset of dizziness and loss of balance with difficulty walking.
4. Onset of vision problems in one or both eyes including blurred or darkened vision or it’s possible you could experience double vision.
5.  Sudden, severe headache which is sometimes accompanied by vomiting or alteration in consciousness.
If you feel that you or someone you know is experiencing symptoms of a stroke it’s crucial that you call 911 and seek medical attention immediately.  Time is critical to safe effective treatment and recovery.  There are new medications available today known as clot bustersthat can significantly improve your chances of recovery.  However, they must be administered with in the first four and half hours, the sooner the better.
Prevention is always better than treatment and many of the same measures you would take to prevent a heart attack will also help prevent a stroke.  That means keeping your blood pressure, weight and any other chronic conditions under control.  making lifestyle changes like quitting smoking and decreasing your alcohol intake, eating more fresh fruit and vegetables while decreasing fats and refined sugars.  Probably the one thing that can help with all these is exercise.  Regular exercise is crucial to maintaining your health.

Kimberly Allen is a registered nurse with an AND in nursing. She has worked in ACF, LCF and psychiatric facilities, although she spent most of her career as a home health expert. She is now a regular contributor to, dispensing advice and knowledge about medical issues and questions. You can reach her with any comments or questions at