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Similar to a heart attack, a stroke is a blockage in the blood vessels supplying blood to the brain. This is a major illness, needing extra precaution. It can happen to anyone at any point of time. The degree of damage depends upon the area and the extent of damage. For example, someone who had a minor stroke attack can only feel pain and temporary weakness in his arms or legs. However, people who have experienced a major stroke can be permanently paralyzed on one side.

How Prevalent is Stroke?

Stroke is the leading cause of serious disability taking substantial lives. The reported death rate of stroke is approximately 5-6 percent. Stroke is the sixth leading cause of death in the world. Of the total stroke cases reported, almost 87 percent are due to ischemic stroke, i.e., due to blockages in the blood vessels.

The risk of having a stroke is also different for different ethnic groups. That risk has been reported to be almost double in the African-American population as compared to Caucasians. There is also evidence that American Indians, Alaskan natives and African-Americans are more prone to strokes than other ethnic groups.

There is no evidence of any age group falling prey to stroke as it can occur at any point of one’s life. Almost 34 percent of people hospitalized for stroke have been younger than sixty-five.

Factors Responsible for Stroke

Anyone can suffer a stroke at any point in time. However, many common medical conditions can increase the risk associated with the disease.

Transient Ischemic Attack – If you already had a stroke or mini ischemic attack, then you have a higher chance of having another stroke.

High Blood Pressure – High blood pressure is the major risk factor for stroke. Since the pressure on the arteries or blood vessels supplying blood to organs such as the brain is high, the chances of getting affected by the condition are higher. Lowering the pressure by improving lifestyle and implementing healthy eating habits can minimize the chances.

High Cholesterol – Cholesterol is the fatty substance prepared by the liver for the day to day use of the body. However, an excess of cholesterol can be built up in the arteries, including those of the brain. This can lead to the narrowing of the arteries leading to stroke and other problems.

Heart Disease – Common heart problems such as coronary heart disease can increase the risk associated with stroke as plaque builds up in the arteries that can, in turn, block the flow of oxygen rich blood to the brain. Other heart conditions such as heart valve defects, irregular heartbeats and enlarged heart chambers can cause clotting of blood and lead to a stroke.

Diabetes – Our body needs glucose for energy. Insulin is the hormone responsible for transporting glucose from blood to the cells. This may lead to an increased sugar level in the blood, which will ultimately convert into fat. The increased fat deposition in the blood vessels may cause stroke.

Sickle Cell Disease – This disease is more common in African-American and Hispanic children. The disease causes the red blood cells to achieve the abnormal sickle shape, which will obstruct the blood flow of the arteries leading to blockage.

Apart from these medical conditions, some environmental factors such as diet, physical activity, weight, and overuse of alcohol or tobacco may increase the risk of stroke. Since genetic factors can also play a major role in developing high blood pressure, diabetes, etc., stroke is said to have a genetic link.

Symptoms Associated with Stroke

Strokes can occur within a very short period of time and come without warning.

Some of the noted symptoms of the disease are:

  • Confusion, vague speaking or listening
  • Headache, possibly with altered consciousness or vomiting
  • Numbness on one side of the body covering face, arm and neck
  • Trouble looking with one or both eyes
  • Trouble walking including dizziness and lack of coordination

Stroke can lead to problems and lifelong difficulties such as:

  • Bladder or bowel control problems
  • Depression
  • Pain in hands and legs that can get worse over time
  • Weakness on one or both the sides of the body
  • Trouble controlling or expressing emotions

Prognosis Associated with a Stroke

Since stroke takes control of the body quickly, it’s important that the diagnosis of a stroke be made quickly. There are some signs available, which can help toward identifying onset of a stroke:

  • One side of the face droops when the person tries to smile
  • Drifting of the arm when a person tries to raise both arms
  • Slurred speech

Both ischemic and hemorrhagic stroke require special treatment. A brain scan is the only way of confirming a stroke.

Stroke is broadly classified into three areas:

Hemorrhagic Stroke – A less common type affecting less than 15 percent of people, but responsible for about 40 percent of all stroke deaths. This occurs due to rupturing of the weakened walls of the blood vessels supplying blood to the brain. Due to this rupture, the blood is released into different parts of the brain causing stroke. This spillage creates instant damage in the blood vessels surrounding the area, causing major death of brain cells or neurons.

Ischemic Stroke – This type of stroke occurs when the vessel supplying blood to the different parts of the brain is blocked by a clot. Due to this clotting, the supply of blood is halted, resulting in the loss of brain cells. Due to lifestyle and environmental factors, this type of stroke is more common, accounting for about 87 percent of stroke patients.  This less severe form of stroke can be kept under control by taking precautionary measures. Survival rates are higher in ischemic stroke as compared to other forms.

Transient Ischemic Attack – This form of stroke has a very short duration involving stoppage of blood for a very short period of time. It’s also referred to as a mini stroke. The symptoms last for less than 24 hours. This is a very minor attack that doesn’t cause any permanent damage. However, it can be taken as a warning signal for future stroke attacks and should not be ignored.