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Mercy Heart & Vascular Center

Conditions - Stroke

A stroke occurs when a blood vessel in your brain bursts or becomes blocked and the flow of blood and oxygen within your brain is halted. The longer before a stroke victim receives appropriate treatment the more likely permanent damage will occur as brain cells are deprived of oxygen and die. There are two types of stroke: ischemic and hemorrhagic.

Ischemic stroke occurs when a blood clot blocks the blood flow within your brain. If the clot is formed in an already narrow vessel and completely blocks the artery it is a thrombotic stroke. However if a blood clot breaks off from another blood vessel either in the brain or another part of the body and travels to block an artery in the brain it is an embolism, or embolic stroke. People with atherosclerosis are at risk for ischemic stroke because the buildup of plaque narrows the arteries. Certain drugs and medical conditions may put you at greater risk for an ischemic stroke.

Hemorrhagic stroke is when a blood vessel within your brain bursts and disrupts the normal flow of oxygenated blood within your brain.

While the highest risk factor for stroke is high blood pressure you should also be aware of your potentially increased risk if you have:
  • family history of stroke or TIA (transient ischemic attack, a possible precursor to stroke)
  • atrial fibrillation
  • diabetes
  • obesity
  • heart disease
  • P.A.D.
  • high cholesterol
In addition women over the age of 35 who smoke and take birth control pills may be at increased risk for stroke as well as people who abuse drugs or alcohol. African-Americans have a greater risk of death from stroke than other races and stroke is more common in men than women.

Stroke symptoms typically include:
  • paralysis, numbness or weakness on one side of the face and/or body
  • sudden difficulty speaking – slurring words or inability to repeat a simple sentence
  • difficulty walking, loss of balance or coordination
  • sudden headache with no known cause
  • unexplained confusion
  • blurred or double vision
If you or a loved one experiences any of the above symptoms, call 911 immediately. Time lost means brain lost – the sooner you can get medical attention the better your outlook for recovery.

Your health care provider can determine if you are at increased risk for stroke by reviewing your medical history, family history, and doing a physical examination. If you are at risk your doctor may prescribe certain lifestyle changes including:
  • a healthy diet and exercise regimen
  • smoking cessation
  • drug therapy including medication to lower your blood pressure, cholesterol or atrial fibrillation
  • improved management of your diabetes

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