A stroke, sometimes called a "brain attack," occurs when blood flow to an area in the brain is cut off. The brain cells, deprived of the oxygen and glucose needed to survive, die. If not caught early, permanent brain damage and death can result.
It’s dramatic when someone has a heart attack on television or in the movies. But in real life, symptoms can be more subtle and difficult to identify. And because heart attack and angina symptoms are so similar, it may be hard to tell what's going on.
But knowing the differences -- and the reasons behind them -- can result in seeking treatment sooner, and living longer.
Ischemic stroke is similar to a heart attack, except it occurs in the blood vessels of the brain. Clots can form either in the brain's blood vessels, in blood vessels leading to the brain, or even blood vessels elsewhere in the body that travel to the brain. These clots block blood flow to the brain's cells. Ischemic stroke can also occur when too much plaque (fatty deposits and cholesterol) clogs the brain's blood vessels. About 80% of all strokes are ischemic.
Hemorrhagic (heh-more-raj-ik) strokes occur when a blood vessel in the brain breaks or ruptures. The result is blood seeping into the brain tissue, causing damage to brain cells. The most common causes of hemorrhagic stroke are high blood pressure and brain aneurysms. An aneurysm is a weakness or thinness in the blood vessel wall.
What Are the Symptoms of Stroke?
The most common symptoms of a stroke are:
Weakness or numbness of the face, arm, or leg on one side of the body
Loss of vision or dimming (like a curtain falling) in one or both eyes
Loss of speech, difficulty talking, or understanding what others are saying
Sudden, severe headache with no known cause
Loss of balance or unstable walking, usually combined with another symptom
What Should I Do If I Have Symptoms of a Stroke?
Immediately call 911 if you or someone you know has symptoms of a stroke. Stroke is a medical emergency. Immediate treatment can save your life or increase your chances for a full recovery.
Are Strokes Preventable?
Up to half of all strokes are preventable. Many risk factors can be controlled before they cause problems.
Gender (Men have more strokes, women have deadlier strokes)
Race (African-Americans are at increased risk)
Family history of stroke
Your doctor can evaluate your risk for stroke and help you control your risk factors.
Sometimes, people experience warning signs before a stroke occurs. These are called transient ischemic attacks (also called TIA or "mini-stroke"), brief episodes of the stroke symptoms listed above. A TIA is when a blockage, caused by a clot, is temporary. These leave no permanent brain damage.
Some people have no warning signs before a stroke, or symptoms are so mild that they are not noticeable. Regular check-ups are important in catching problems before they become serious. Report any symptoms or risk factors to your doctor.