Every year, 800,000 people suffer a stroke. It is the fifth leading cause of death in America, but it doesn’t have to be. Up to 80 percent of strokes are preventable given timely detection and treatment of the underlying source.
What is a Stroke?
You likely know that a stroke affects the brain and some of the possible signs such as face drooping or slurred speech. These symptoms occur depending on severity of the condition and the area of the brain that is being deprived of oxygen rich blood. A stroke occurs when a blood vessel supplying the brain becomes blocked or bursts. This prevents part of the brain from receiving blood flow and causes brain cells to die. There are two main types of stroke:
- Hemorrhagic Stroke – A hemorrhagic stroke is exceptionally dangerous. Although these represent only about 15 percent of all strokes, they are the cause of about 40 percent of all stroke fatalities. This particular type of stroke occurs when a weakened blood vessel bursts. Most commonly, hemorrhagic strokes occur as a direct result of uncontrolled hypertension.
- Ischemic Stroke – Ischemic strokes are the result of a blood clot blocking one of the blood vessels supplying the brain. This is by far the most common type of stroke, accounting for 87 percent of all cases. A subtype of ischemic stroke called transient ischemic attack (TIA), or “mini stroke,” is the result of a temporary clot and can be a warning sign of a more severe stroke in the future.
Preventing Hemorrhagic Stroke
The risk of suffering a hemorrhagic stroke can be greatly reduced by monitoring and controlling high blood pressure. This may include lifestyle changes such as diet and prescription medications. By controlling hypertension, patients can drastically reduce the damage that results in weakened blood vessels and subsequent rupture. Additionally, quitting smoking and the use of any tobacco products can also have a positive impact on stroke risk.
Preventing Ischemic Stroke
The blood clots that cause an ischemic stroke either originate within the blood vessels supplying the brain (thrombosis) or in a different area of the circulatory system, such as the heart, and travel to the brain (embolism). Embolisms are often the result of atrial fibrillation, or AFib, and managing the condition effectively can help reduce risk.
Thrombotic strokes most often occur within the carotid arteries. These two arteries are located on either side of the neck and supply blood to the brain. When these arteries become damaged and narrowed due to plaque buildup, stroke becomes a very serious threat. Treatment to clear the artery includes surgical removal through carotid endarterectomy, and less invasive removal and stent placement through carotid angioplasty and stenting.
A stroke is a serious health event that can be life-altering, if not life-threatening. Understanding risk factors which may contribute to weakened blood vessels and clot formation, such as high blood pressure and cholesterol, and properly managing them is key to prevention. If you are considered high risk for stroke or have been diagnosed with a condition such as carotid artery disease, contact Cardiovascular Institute of the South to learn how our team of leading cardiologists can help safeguard your health.