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A stroke occurs when some of the brainís tissue dies from lack of blood and oxygen. The brain can be deprived of blood flow in several ways, but the two major causes are:  

  • a blood clot that travels from another part of the circulatory system and lodges in an artery serving the brain (when this happens, the condition is known as an ischemic stroke)

  • rupture of a brain blood vessel, which reduces blood flow and allows blood to leak out into the brain (a hemorrhagic stroke)

A stroke is a serious emergency and is the third most important cause of death in people over 65 after heart disease and cancer. About one-third to one-half of people suffering a hemorrhagic stroke will die. People who have an ischemic stroke have a much better chance of surviving and recuperating.  

A stroke usually occurs suddenly and rapidly but may develop over a period of hours to days. The brain damage that ensues may result in severe symptoms that often affect only one side of the body. These may include:

  • loss of vision or hearing

  • double vision

  • weakness in the face and arms

  • paralysis or loss of sensation in one or more limbs

  • dizziness

  • problems with speech or word recognition

  • unusual movements

  • inability to control the emotions.

In the worst cases, the patient may lapse into a coma or suffer brain swelling. 

If someone you know has any of these symptoms, call an ambulance. The key to limiting the damage caused by stroke is to ensure treatment is begun immediately. 


Once they reach the hospital, some people having an ischemic stroke may be given a thrombolytic drug, which helps to break up a blood clot. People having hemorrhagic strokes are sometimes taken for surgery to repair the cause of bleeding. New drugs designed to limit the damage caused by stroke are being tested in some hospitals.  

Once the stroke has ended, the patient will probably require a rehabilitation program to help re-establish at least some of the lost brain and body function. The person will also begin a medical regimen designed to prevent another stroke. This will usually include:

  • drugs to control blood pressure and lower the risk of blood clots

  • lifestyle modifications to control atherosclerosis, which is a common source of blood clots. Smoking cessation is especially important

Some people who have had a stroke undergo a surgical procedure called an endarterectomy. In this operation, atherosclerotic deposits are removed from the patientís neck artery to improve blood flow to the brain. 

Eliminating risk factors is a major element in stroke prevention. If you have had a stroke, follow your doctorís recommendations carefully.   




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