What is stroke?

Stroke is also known as cerebrovascular accident. It occurs when part of the brain loses its blood supply and the part of the body controlled by the blood deprived brain cells stops working. This loss of blood supply can be as a result of lack of blood flow or rupture of blood vessels into the brain tissue.
It should be treated as a medical emergency because it is known to easily cause permanent disability or death. When brain cells are deprived of oxygen because of blockage in blood vessels supplying blood to the brain, leading to stroke, then this type of stroke is known as Ischemic stroke. There is a window to treat Ischemic stroke within the first few hours of the signs to reduce significant damage to the brain cells.

When a blood vessel leaks and spills blood into a brain tissue, the affected brain cells stop working and it results in the second type of stroke known as Hemorrhagic stroke. Therefore these are the two main types of strokes, described in detail as follows;

  1. Ischemic stroke
  2. Hemorrhagic stroke

Hemorrhagic stroke

Poorly controlled high blood pressure weakens the walls of arteries over time and when it becomes severe, blood vessels rupture and spills blood into brain tissues, causing Hemorrhagic stroke.

There is also a condition known as aneurysm that can cause leakage of blood into the brain tissue. Its cause include incorrect connection of an artery and vein and ballooning of an artery wall. The bleeding can form a hematoma that directly damages brain cells and may also cause swelling that puts further pressure on surrounding brain tissue.

Ischemic stroke

One suffers Ischemic stroke when an artery in the brain is blocked and thus preventing blood rich in oxygen from being reaching brain cells. The artery can get blocked in various ways, for instance by narrowing down due to cholesterol build up. Building up of cholesterol on arteries is also dangerous in the sense that when it ruptures, clots can result and will prevent blood from passing to brain cells. These clots are capable to travelling from one blood vessel to another within the bloodstream and can easily cause obstruction.

These two types of stroke simply imply that conditions such as high blood pressure and high intake of cholesterol can be hazardous. From this, we can deduce that the risk factors of stroke are the following;

Medical risk factors

  1. Cigarette smoking.
  2. High cholesterol
  3. Hypertension
  4. Diabetes
  5. Obstructive sleep apnea
  6. Cardiovascular disease, including heart failure, heart defects, heart infection or abnormal heart rhythm, such as atrial fibrillation
  7. Personal or family history of stroke, heart attack or transient ischemic attack

Lifestyle risk factors

  1. Being overweight
  2. Excessive consumption of alcohol
  3. Physical inactivity
  4. Use of illegal drugs such as cocaine.

What causes stroke?

As explained in the above paragraphs, stroke is majorly caused by factors and circumstances that result in damage of brain cells, either by deprivation of oxygen or leakage of blood to brain tissues. Deprivation of oxygen to brain cells results from insufficient blood flow and leakage of blood onto brain tissue occurs when blood vessels break.

The following conditions and scenarios explain how stroke comes about;

  • A condition known as vasculitis in which blood vessels become inflamed and results in decreased blood flow to parts of the brain.
  • Occurrence of cerebral hemorrhage where a blood vessel in the brain ruptures and bleeds into the surrounding brain tissue.
  • When a clot breaks loose, travels through the bloodstream, and lodges in an artery in the brain. When blood flow stops, brain cells do not receive the oxygen and glucose they require to function and a stroke occurs. 
  • Narrowing of blood vessels, leading to insufficient blood supply to the brain.

Symptoms of stroke

  1. Trouble walking. Stroke can result in you losing balance and stumbling. Lack of coordination is also a similar sign.
  2. Sudden dizziness.
  3. Headache. A sudden, severe headache, which may be accompanied by vomiting, dizziness or altered consciousness, may indicate that you’re having a stroke.
  4. Trouble understanding what others are saying, trouble speaking. You may experience confusion and difficulty in understanding speech.
  5. Paralysis on arms and the face. One may develop sudden weakness or paralysis in arms, legs and their face. This often strikes one side of the body, either left or right. Try to raise both your arms over your head at the same time. If one arm begins to fall, you may be having a stroke. Also, one side of your mouth may droop when you try to smile.
  6. Problems seeing in one or both eyes. You may suddenly have blurred or blackened vision in one or either eyes, or you may see double.

Complications of stroke.

  • Memory loss. Many people who experienced stroke have had memory loss, difficulty in thinking, reasoning and making judgements. Understanding concepts is also difficult.
  • Loss of muscle movement. You may become paralyzed on one side of your body, or lose control of certain muscles, such as those on one side of your face or one arm.
  • Difficulty talking or swallowing. A stroke might affect control of the muscles in your mouth and throat, making it difficult for you to talk clearly, swallow or eat.
  • Emotional problems. People who have had strokes may have more difficulty controlling their emotions, or they may develop depression.
  • Pain. Pain, numbness or other unusual sensations may occur in the parts of the body affected by stroke. For example, if a stroke causes you to lose feeling in your left arm, you may develop an uncomfortable tingling sensation in that arm.

How can I prevent stroke?

First, it is important to know and work on your stroke risk factors. See a doctor for recommendations on how you can adopt a healthy lifestyle and other steps you can take to prevent a stroke. The following steps are helpful for people who have previously had stroke or not, as far as prevention is concerned.

  1. Control and manage high blood pressure, by adopting healthy lifestyles.
  2. Cut down on fatty food, reduce the amount of cholesterol and saturated fat in your diet.
  3. Quit smoking.
  4. Managing diabetes. Diet, exercise and losing weight can help you keep your blood sugar in a healthy range. If lifestyle factors don’t seem to be enough to control your diabetes, your doctor may prescribe diabetes medication.
  5. Maintaining a healthy weight. Being overweight contributes to other stroke risk factors, such as high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
  6. Eat a diet rich in vegetables and fruits.
  7. Exercising regularly. Aerobic exercise reduces your risk of stroke in many ways. Exercise can lower your blood pressure, increase your levels of good cholesterol, and improve the overall health of your blood vessels and heart. It also helps you lose weight, control diabetes and reduce stress. Gradually work up to at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity — such as walking, jogging, swimming or bicycling — on most, if not all, days of the week.
  8. Reduce or avoid intake of alcohol
  9. Treating obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). Your doctor may recommend a sleep study if you have symptoms of OSA — a sleep disorder that causes you to stop breathing for short periods repeatedly during sleep.

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