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Understanding Strokes: Risk Factors, Symptoms, Treatment, and Recovery

By Excelin Health on June 27, 2021

Every 40 seconds, someone in the United States suffers from a stroke, accounting for nearly 795,000 cases of strokes in the United States. Strokes are responsible for the most cases of long term disability compared to any other illness or medical emergency. While strokes can not always be prevented, understanding what a stroke is and knowing the risk factors for a stroke can greatly reduce your risk of having a stroke or experiencing complications from one. So, what is a stroke? A stroke occurs when the normal blood flow to the brain is suddenly disrupted or stops, due to blood vessels in the brain being blocked by a blood clot or a bursted blood clot. This disruption to the blood flow of the brain causes damage to the brain tissue. 

There are two types of strokes. The first type of stroke is called an ischemic stroke. Ischemic strokes are the most common type of stroke and they are caused by a blockage in the brain’s blood vessels due to a blood clot. The second type of stroke is called a hemorrhagic stroke. A hemorrhagic stroke happens when a blood vessel in the brain ruptures or leaks. These types of strokes are less common. Some people may also suffer from a transient ischemic attack (TIA), or a mini-stroke. A TIA differs from other strokes because the blood flow to the brain is only blocked for a few minutes. However, transient ischemic attacks are a warning sign for future strokes and should be treated as seriously as a stroke. Any type of stroke is considered a medical emergency and treatment should be administered as quickly as possible. Early treatment can reduce complications and can prevent further brain damage.


Risk Factors

A stroke is possible for anyone at any age. However, some genetic factors can increase the risk of a stroke. Age can increase the risk of a stroke, as strokes are much more likely the older you get. Sex can also play a role in increasing the risk of a stroke. Women are more likely to suffer from a stroke than men. Ethnicity can increase the risk of stroke. African American, Native American, Hispanic, and Alaskan natives are more likely to have a stroke than other ethnicities. While these risk factors cannot be prevented, it is important to talk to your doctor about your risk of stroke and to understand what these risk factors might mean for you.

Certain habits and lifestyle choices can increase your risk of stroke. Eating an unhealthy diet and not getting enough exercise can increase the risk of a stroke. Obesity can also increase the risk of a stroke. Drinking too much alcohol and smoking tobacco are also common risk factors of a stroke. Some medical conditions can also increase the risk of a stroke. People who have suffered from a previous stroke or from a transient ischemic attack have an increased risk of having another stroke. High blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease, diabetes, and sickle cell disease can also lead to an increased risk of stroke. A large number of strokes could be prevented by incorporating a healthy lifestyle and by keeping some medical conditions under control. If you fall into any of these risk factors, you should talk with your doctor to see how you can minimize your risk of stroke.


Stroke Symptoms

It is important to know the symptoms of a stroke because diagnosing and treating a stroke early can be the difference between life and death. There are many symptoms that may occur during a stroke. These include: 

  • Sudden numbness occurring in the arms, legs, or face. This numbness usually occurs on one side of the body but can happen on both
  • Becoming confused suddenly, difficulty talking, and trouble understanding speech.
  • Sudden disruption of vision in one eye or both eyes
  • Sudden bout of dizziness, trouble balancing, loss of coordination, and sudden difficulty with walking
  • A severe headache that occurs suddenly without explanation

If you or a loved one are at an increased risk of stroke, remembering the acronym F.A.S.T. can help a stroke sufferer get the treatment they need in a timely manner. F.A.S.T. stands for 

  • F - Face: Is the face drooping?
  • A - Arms: Is one arm weak or unable to be raised properly?
  • S - Speech: Is speech abnormal or slurred?
  • T - Time: If you notice any symptoms above, call 911 as soon as possible.

Fast treatment is critical for someone that is experiencing a stroke. Quick medical treatment increases the chance of survival in stroke victims. Familiarize yourself with stroke symptoms so you can know when a call to 911 is necessary. 


Treatment and Recovery

Treatment for the victim of a stroke starts as soon as the person enters the ambulance. This is why it is essential to call 911 for someone who is experiencing a stroke. Once at the hospital, treatment will vary according to what kind of stroke occurred. The type of stroke will be determined after brain scans are performed. Once the type of stroke is determined, specialized treatment will begin. Treatment options range from medications to endovascular and surgical procedures. A person suffering from an ischemic stroke may be given a thrombolytic, which is a type of medication that can break up a blood clot. This medication can greatly increase the chance of recovery and can reduce the risk of serious disability. To receive this medication, the stroke victim must get to the hospital within three hours of the first symptoms of the stroke. For this reason, quick diagnosis and medical treatment are essential for anyone experiencing a stroke. 

Once someone experiences a stroke, their risk of another stroke is greatly increased. For this reason, stroke victims should work on reducing their risk factors for stroke. After being discharged from the hospital, rehabilitation may be necessary to help with recovery. Rehabilitation may include physical therapy, speech therapy, and occupational therapy. Rehabilitation can occur in an inpatient, outpatient, or home health setting. During these rehabilitation sessions, medical providers and nurses work with patients to help them recover from physical issues brought on by the stroke. For more information visit our home healthcare rehabilitation programs page.

Some problems may continue after treatment. These problems may include paralysis, speech issues, recurring numbness, hand and feet pain, trouble with thinking and concentration, depression, and other complications. While these lasting complications can be overwhelming, some medications and therapy can help relieve depression and other mental issues. Support groups and family support can make a big difference in the mental recovery of stroke victims. If you or a loved one has experienced a stroke and are in need of rehabilitation services, please call 888-565-6178 to see how we can help you. 

The Right Care at the Right Time

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