A stroke occurs when there is a sudden interruption of blood flow to the brain. There are two major types of stroke:
- Ischemic - a blockage of blood flow
- Hemorrhagic - bleeding within the skull
Hemorrhagic stroke can be further subdivided into intracerebral hemorrhage in which there is bleeding within the brain itself and subarachnoid hemorrhage in which there is bleeding in the space surrounding the brain.
Stroke is a disease with major public health consequences. There are over 700,000 strokes in the US each year and it is the third leading cause of death. Stroke is the leading cause of permanent disability in adults. Stroke is of particular importance in Alabama, which sits in the part of the Southeastern US dubbed the "Stroke Belt," due to its excess in stroke deaths compared with other states in the US. The cause of the Stroke Belt remains a mystery but is the subject of a very large ongoing study supported by the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
Stroke Risk Factors
- Prior stroke
- Atrial fibrillation
- Carotid artery stenosis
- Heart Disease
- Elevated cholesterol
- Sudden numbness or weakness in the face, arm, or leg, especially on one side of the body
- Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes
- Sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding
- Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination
- Sudden severe headache with no known cause
If you or someone you're with experiences any of the above symptoms, call 911 immediately! There are available treatments to reduce the disability of stroke but they must be initiated quickly after the onset of symptoms. Every minute counts!
If the symptoms above resolve within 24 hours, they reflect a transient ischemic attack (TIA) or "warning stroke." Several recent studies have shown that patients with recent TIA are at a high risk for developing a subsequent stroke and should therefore be evaluated urgently.
Stroke is a largely preventable disease and the cornerstone of management involves identification and treatment of modifiable risk factors. For patients with previous ischemic stroke, some type of blood thinning medicine (e.g., an antiplatelet medicine such as aspirin, aspirin + dipyridamole (Aggrenox), or clopidogrel (Plavix) or the anticoagulant warfarin (Coumadin)) will likely be prescribed. Some patients may benefit from surgery to reduce blockage in the carotid artery.