A stroke is sometimes called a ‘brain attack’. It happens when a blood clot in an artery breaks and plugs up the flow of blood to an area of the brain. When this happens brain cells begin to die because of lack of oxygen.
This takes only 3 minutes of lack of oxygen from arterial supply before the brain cells begin to die. This death of the cells will result in brain damage.
This brain damage is called a stroke. Many times the abilities that are lost include speech, memory or movement. How much damage is done and to what functions depends upon where the stroke happened in the brain and how much of it was damaged.
For example there are ‘mini-strokes’ (Transient Ischemic Attacks –TIA) which leaves people with little to no permanent damage but which is a risk factor for larger strokes. Smaller strokes can leave a person with minor weakness in the arm or leg and others who suffer larger damage to the brain can have paralysis on one side of the body or the other, lose their ability to speak or their memory.
There are two broad categories of stroke, both of which have their own risk factors. An ischemic stroke is caused by a blockage and a hemorrhagic stroke happens when there is bleeding in the brain or the spaces around the brain that can be caused by high blood pressure or aneurysms.
The factors that increase the risk of strokes are both environmental and genetic. Five of the more uncontrollable risk factors are age, sex, race, family history of diabetes and family history of stroke or TIA. While we can’t control the race or family into which we are born, whether we are male or female or stop the aging process there are risk factors that can be controlled.
In some cases individuals have treatable medical conditions that left untreated increase the risk of stroke. These conditions include diabetes, atrial fibrillation, previous heart attacks, high cholesterol, carotid artery disease, personal history of stroke or TIA, high blood pressure, and heart disease. It isn’t enough to know you have diabetes or heart disease but an individual must also treat the disease appropriately in order to decrease their risk of stroke.
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In other cases individuals may be making lifestyle choices that increase their risk of developing either an ischemic or hemorrhagic stroke. These include smoking, drinking alcohol, obesity, drug abuse, low estrogen levels and physical inactivity.
Stroke symptoms and prevention are determined by the type of risk factors that an individual recognizes as part of their medical or family history or lifestyle choices. Although family history can’t be changed when coupled with a current medical condition or lifestyle choices they raise the risk of stroke. Individuals who are faced with these conditions must be vigilant about their lifestyle choices and care of their medical conditions.
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