Increased Stroke Risk

What is a stroke?

The brain needs a constant supply of oxygen and nutrients in order to work well. If blood supply is stopped even for a short time, this can cause problems. Brain cells begin to die after just a few minutes without blood or oxygen.

A stroke, or brain attack, happens when blood flow to your brain is stopped. It is an emergency situation.

When brain cells die, brain function is lost. You may not be able to do things that are controlled by that part of the brain. For example, a stroke may affect your ability to:

A stroke can happen to anyone at any time.

Causes of Stroke

A stroke is caused when blood flow to your brain is stopped or disrupted. There are 2 kinds of stroke: ischemic and hemorrhagic.

Ischemic stroke.

This is the most common type of stroke. It happens when a major blood vessel in the brain is blocked. It may be blocked by a blood clot. Or it may be blocked by a buildup of fatty deposit and cholesterol. This buildup is called plaque.

Hemorrhagic stroke.

This occurs when a blood vessel in your brain bursts, spilling blood into nearby tissues. With a hemorrhagic stroke, pressure builds up in the nearby brain tissue. This causes even more damage and irritation.

Who is at risk for a stroke?

Anyone can have a stroke at any age. But your chance of having a stroke increases if you have certain risk factors. Some risk factors for stroke can be changed or managed, while others can’t.

Risk factors for stroke that can be changed, treated, or medically managed:

  • High blood pressure. Blood pressure of 140/90 or higher can damage blood vessels (arteries) that supply blood to the brain.
  • High red blood cell count. A significant increase in the number of red blood cells thickens the blood and makes clots more likely. This raises the risk for stroke.
  • Heart disease. Heart disease is the second most important risk factor for stroke, and the major cause of death among survivors of stroke. Heart disease and stroke have many of the same risk factors.
  • Diabetes. People with diabetes are at greater risk for a stroke than someone without diabetes.
  • Smoking. Smoking almost doubles your risk for an ischemic stroke.
  • Birth control pills (oral contraceptives)
  • History of TIAs (transient ischemic attacks). TIAs are often called mini-strokes. They have the same symptoms as stroke, but the symptoms don’t last. If you have had one or more TIAs, you are almost 10 times more likely to have a stroke than someone of the same age and sex who has not had a TIA.
  • High blood cholesterol and lipids. High cholesterol levels can contribute to thickening or hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis) caused by a buildup of plaque. Plaque is deposits of fatty substances, cholesterol, and calcium. Plaque buildup on the inside of the artery walls can decrease the amount of blood flow to the brain. A stroke occurs if the blood supply is cut off to the brain.
  • Lack of exercise
  • Obesity
  • Abnormal heart rhythm. Some types of heart disease can raise your risk for stroke. Having an irregular heartbeat (atrial fibrillation) is the most powerful and treatable heart risk factor of stroke.
  • Illegal drugs. IV (intravenous) drug abuse carries a high risk of stroke from blood clots (cerebral embolisms). Cocaine and other drugs have been closely linked to strokes, heart attacks, and many other cardiovascular problems.
  • Cardiac structural abnormalities. Damaged heart valves (valvular heart disease) can cause long-term (chronic) heart damage. Over time, this can raise your risk for stroke.

Risk factors for stroke that can’t be changed:

A stroke is an emergency situation. It’s important to know the signs of a stroke and get help quickly. Call 911 or your local emergency number right away. Treatment is most effective when started right away.

Stroke symptoms may happen suddenly. Each person’s symptoms may vary. Symptoms may include:

Symptoms of a stroke?

Anyone can have a stroke at any age. But your chance of having a stroke increases if you have certain risk factors. Some risk factors for stroke can be changed or managed, while others can’t. Risk factors for stroke that can be changed, treated, or medically managed:

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How is a stroke treated?

Your healthcare provider will create a care plan for you based on:

  • Your age, overall health, and past health
  • The type of stroke you had
  • How severe your stroke was
  • Where in your brain the stroke happened
  • What caused your stroke
  • How well you handle certain medicines, treatments, or therapies
  • Your opinion or preference

There is no cure for stroke once it has occurred. But advanced medical and surgical treatments are available. These can help reduce your risk for another stroke.

Treatment is most effective when started right away. Emergency treatment after a stroke may include:

  • Clot-busting medicines (thrombolytics or fibrinolytics). These medicines dissolve the blood clots that cause an ischemic stroke. They can help reduce the damage to brain cells caused by the stroke. To be most effective, they must be given within 3 hours of a stroke occurring.
  • Medicines and therapy to reduce or control brain swelling. Special types of IV (intravenous) fluids are often used to help reduce or control brain swelling. They are used especially after a hemorrhagic stroke.
  • Neuroprotective medicines. These medicines help protect the brain from damage and lack of oxygen (ischemia).
  • Life support measures. These treatments include using a machine to help you breathe (a ventilator), having IV fluids, getting proper nutrition, and controlling your blood pressure.
  • Craniotomy. This is a type of brain surgery that is done to remove blood clots, relieve pressure, or repair bleeding in the brain.

Stroke: Key points

  • A stroke happens when blood flow to your brain is stopped. It is an emergency situation.
  • It can be caused by a narrowed blood vessel, bleeding, or a clot that blocks blood flow.
  • Symptoms can happen suddenly. If someone is showing any sign of a stroke, call 911 immediately.
  • You have a better chance of recovering from a stroke if emergency treatment is started right away.
  • How a stroke affects you depends on where the stroke occurs in your brain, and on how much your brain is damaged.

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