Stroke is a treatable neurological emergency that is currently the fifth leading cause of death in the United States and the #1 cause of disability in adults. During a stroke, brain cells die due to a lack of oxygen and nutrients caused by an interruption of blood flow to areas of the brain. On average, one person suffers from stroke every 40 seconds in this country, and each year, around 800,000 patients experience this emergency.
Stroke can be subdivided into two main categories: ischemic and hemorrhagic. Ischemic stroke occurs when there is a lack of blood flow to brain cells due to narrowing or blockage of one or more arteries responsible for providing blood. A primary reason for blockage in the arteries is fatty deposits of plaque, known as atherosclerosis, caused by persistent hypertension, diabetes mellitus, and abnormal cholesterol levels.
Other factors, such as arrhythmias (particularly atrial fibrillation), heart failure, narrowing or blockage of carotid arteries, and tear or rupture of arteries can also contribute to ischemic strokes. A subset of ischemic stroke is TIA or “mini stroke,” with reversible oxygen deficiency—once blood flow is restored, patients’ symptoms resolve. However, a person suffering from TIAs is at a higher risk of experiencing subsequent strokes.
Hemorrhagic stroke occurs when a leak or rupture of intracranial arteries causes blood to come in direct contact with the brain cells. Uncontrolled hypertension and intracranial aneurysms are major risk factors for intracerebral hemorrhage, the most common hemorrhagic stroke. Less common is a subarachnoid hemorrhage, which carries a higher risk of fatality and severe disability.
Although each type of stroke has its causes, both ischemic and hemorrhagic strokes are likely to occur in individuals with uncontrolled hypertension, unmanaged diabetes, abnormal cholesterol levels, carotid artery disease, heart failure, atrial fibrillation and obesity. A sedentary lifestyle, increased alcohol consumption, smoking cigarettes, and use of illicit drugs such as cocaine, heroin, and amphetamines also increase the risk of stroke.
While doctors are able to treat the majority of strokes successfully, treatment is time sensitive—on average, two million brain cells die per minute during a stroke. Identifying symptoms of stroke is of utmost importance, and the quicker the better. Sudden onset weakness, numbness, or inability to move one or more limbs could be a sign of stroke. It’s important to note that subtler symptoms such as slurred speech, word finding difficulty, confusion, difficulty walking, dizziness or vertigo, headaches and change in mental status can also be stroke symptoms. Remember the acronym “BE FAST,” which stands for Balance, Eyes, Face, Arm, Speech and Time.
If you suspect that you or a loved one is suffering from one or more symptoms of stroke, call 911 immediately. Thibodaux Regional Health System provides care for stroke patients by board-certified, fellowship trained neurologists, but the success of treatment begins with your identifying the symptoms as early as possible. For more information, contact Thibodaux Regional Neurology Clinic at 985-493-3090.