Stroke is the fifth leading cause of death and the primary cause of serious, long-term adult disability in the U.S. However, most people don't know the most basic details about this disease.
A stroke is a "brain attack" that takes place in the brain, rather than the heart. Blood traveling to the brain supplies oxygen and nutrients necessary for survival. A stroke occurs when an artery that leads to the brain or is within the brain is blocked or damaged.
"Without the needed glucose and oxygen provided by the blood, brain cells may be irreversibly damaged," says Chris Sundby, RN, stroke program manager with Sharp HealthCare. "When a part of the brain is damaged, the part of the body it controls is also affected."
Types of stroke
There are two types of stroke:
- Ischemic stroke — a blood clot or plaque particle blocks the artery, restricting blood flow to the brain
- Hemorrhagic stroke — bleeding into the brain, resulting in pressure, leads to reduced blood flow to the brain
A transient ischemic attack, or TIA, occurs when plaque formation or a blood clot temporarily blocks or restricts blood flow to the brain. The blood clot dissolves, blood flow to the brain is restored, and no permanent brain damage occurs. TIAs are often considered a warning sign of a more severe stroke.
According to Sundby, knowing the warning signs of a brain attack could save your life. She encourages you to use the "BE FAST" method to remember the signs of stroke and react quickly:
B — Balance: Sudden loss of balance
E — Eyes: Sudden blurry or loss of vision
F — Face: Facial weakness or drooping on one side of the face or an asymmetrical smile
A — Arms: Arm or leg weakness or numbness on one side of the bod
S — Speech: Altered speech, slurring and the inability to speak or find the right words
T — Time: Act fast and call 911 immediately if you suspect a stroke
Women may also experience the sudden onset of the following unique stroke symptoms:
- Face and limb pain
- General weakness
- Chest pain
- Shortness of breath
"It is imperative that people who think they are having a stroke seek immediate treatment," says Sundby. "You may not recognize symptoms, be in denial, be worried about the cost of treatment, or have a fear of hospitals, but 'time is brain' and emergent treatment is always necessary if stroke is suspected."