a woman having a stroke, shown half in color and half in gray, with her gray eye closed.

What Is a Stroke? 

Some people in this community have experienced strokes. Others may be getting treatment to prevent them from occurring. So what are strokes? What are the links between heart disease and strokes? Here is what to know.

What are strokes?

A stroke is when a part of your brain does not receive enough oxygen. This happens because blood flow to a part of your brain is disrupted. This disruption causes "neurological impairment." This happens to about 795,000 people every year. 1

There are 2 types of strokes:1

  1. Ischemic stroke – An artery that feeds the brain becomes obstructed or blocked. This causes a reduction in the blood supply to an area of your brain. This consists of 87 percent of all strokes.
  2. Hemorrhagic stroke – This occurs when an area of a blood vessel ruptures. This blood spills into the surrounding fluid. This type of stroke is often referred to as a brain bleed. And this accounts for 13 percent of all strokes.

What are the symptoms of a stroke?

A stroke is considered a medical emergency. Survival may depend on the speed at which you can get medical treatment. It is imperative to be aware of the signs and symptoms of a stroke, and to seek help immediately when you experience them. Also, if you observe these symptoms in others, it is important to get them immediate medical attention by calling 9-1-1.

Common symptoms include:1

  • Sudden weakness or numbness of your face, arm, or leg, usually only on 1 side of the body
  • Sudden confusion
  • Trouble speaking or understanding
  • Trouble walking that starts all of a sudden
  • Dizziness or loss of balance or coordination
  • Sudden and severe headache with no known cause

If you suspect someone you know is having a stroke, there are some things you can look for:1

  • Look at their face. With a stroke, One side of their face may appear to be droopy.
  • Have them hold both their arms up. With a stroke, one arm will not move or will drift downward.
  • Have them talk. With a stroke, their words may be slurred, or they are unable to speak.

These are tests doctors are encouraged to perform on people suspected of having strokes. If a person has one of these signs, there is a 72 percent chance they are having a stroke. If all 3 are present, there is an 85 percent chance they are having a stroke. And it's important to call 9-1-1 to get swift medical attention.1

What is the treatment?

Once in the hospital, a healthcare team will do a neurological assessment. This may be similar to what I described above. It will also include some tests, such as a CT. This is a great test for determining if you are having a stroke and what type.

The treatment depends on the type of stroke you are having. And, likewise, the treatment for one type of stroke can make the other worse. So, this is why it is pertinent to get a CT and get an accurate diagnosis.

Treatment of Ischemic stroke is blood thinners. This type of stroke is caused by a blood clot forming in an artery. And a blood thinner called TPA is the treatment. Studies show that this treatment is most effective if given within 3-4.5 hours of the onset of symptoms. So, this is why it is of utmost importance to seek immediate medical attention.1

If you have a brain bleed, blood thinners can make it worse. So you do not want TPA for this type of stroke. The treatment here would work basically for the ER team to stabilize you. And then transfer you to a neurological unit for further evaluation and treatment.

Links between your heart and strokes

Heart disease and strokes have many of the same risk factors. These include: 2

  • High blood pressure
  • High low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol
  • Diabetes
  • Smoking history
  • Second-hand smoke exposure
  • Obesity
  • Unhealthy diet
  • Physical Inactivity

Both high blood pressure and LDL impact your arteries. And they can cause changes to the walls lining your arteries. And this increases the risk for the buildup of plaque, a sticky substance lining the walls of your arteries. Over time, this makes your arteries abnormally narrow. 2

If this narrowing becomes severe enough, it can slow or obstruct blood flow through them. If this affects a coronary artery, it can contribute to a heart attack. If it involves an artery leading to your brain, it can cause an ischemic stroke. 2

Atrial fibrillation (Afib) is a heart arrhythmia that may increase your risk for stroke. This causes a heartbeat that is weaker than usual. And this may cause blood to pool inside your heart. This increases the risk for some of this blood to clot. And this clot may break loose and block an artery leading to your brain, causing a stroke. This is why people with chronic Afib have usually prescribed a blood thinner as part of their treatment regimen. 3

In conclusion

According to the CDC, heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, with strokes being the fifth most common cause of death. These statistics have inspired lots of research into these two diseases to learn more about them. Experts have created recommendations to help lower the risks of both heart disease and strokes. And these include quitting smoking if you smoke, improving your diet, exercising, and controlling diseases like high blood pressure and diabetes. 2,4

And experts have made great efforts to educate us healthcare folks so that we are well equipped to help people experiencing strokes. And they are also making gallant efforts at advocating the general public about knowing who is at risk for strokes—and educating the general public on how to spot a stroke and what actions to take when you spot one.

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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The Heart-Failure.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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