Strokes- Not Always What We Imagine 

When my husband had a stroke, I was caught totally unaware.  Even being in the senior care business I didn’t recognize his symptoms.  I thought he was just not feeling well for a few minutes. We’ve all heard about what strokes look like, but just like any other illness, each person presents differently.  There is no “one size fits all” when it comes to strokes.  Getting a fast diagnosis is the most important thing to remember if there is any idea at all that a stroke might be happening.  And contrary to what most of us hear, getting the blood thinning, clot busting drug is not always the best treatment. It can kill or cause more damage if not treating the right type of stroke.  Only a skilled and experienced medical team can make that determination.  IT IS VERY IMPORTANT TO TAKE NOTE OF THE TIME THE SYPMTOMS OCCUR and CALL 9-1-1.

Strokes are the fifth leading cause of death in our country, and cause disability for millions of people of all ages. A great percentage of strokes are preventable, but that leaves 20 percent that are not. A stroke can happen to anyone at any time, at any age.

There are two main kinds of strokes. Names for these are hemorrhagic, and ischemic.  Both are dangerous and should be taken very seriously.  Importantly, they are Concierge Care Advisors and have side effects that are helpful to know about.

The most common hemorrhagic stroke is a brain aneurysm where a weakened blood vessel leaks and blood spills into or around the brain. This can cause pressure from swelling and result in damaged cells and brain tissue which means certain parts of the body stop working, or don’t work well.  These are less common, about 15 percent of total strokes, but are responsible for 40 percent of stroke deaths.  Within the hemorrhagic category there are two categories. One is subarachnoid and the other is intracerebral.

One cause of intracerebral hemorrhagic stroke can be an arteriovenous malformation (AVM), which is a genetic condition between arteries and veins which do not connect normally. These are more commonly found in the spine or brain. If in the brain, and the blood vessels break, there will be bleeding into the brain. The cause for an AVM is not always clear, but if it can be diagnosed it might be successfully treated.

The subarachnoid stroke is in the space between the brain and the tissue covering the brain.  It is usually caused by an aneurism but can also be caused by a head injury, high blood pressure, and AVM, or blood thinners.

The most common type of stroke, about 87%, is the ischemic stroke. This is a blood clot in a blood vessel carrying blood to the brain, which means the blood needed doesn’t reach its destination. High blood pressure is the usual suspect for the cause of an ischemic stroke. If you have high blood pressure (HBP), don’t discount it. See a doctor and get it under control to reduce your risk factor for strokes, and of course heart disease.

Within the ischemic category, there is the thrombotic stroke, which means a clot has formed in an artery carrying blood to the brain. High cholesterol and atherosclerosis are the most common causes of thrombotic stroke.  There is large vessel thrombosis in the larger arteries, and small vessel thrombotic stroke, which is blood flow blockage in a very small arterial vessel. Very little is known about small vessel disease, but the thinking is that it is linked to high blood pressure.

Some signs to look for:

Sudden severe headache or sharp pain with no apparent reason

Sudden vision loss or difficulty seeing in one or both eyes

Sudden confusion and inability to understand or speak

Sudden difficulty walking

Sudden loss of balance, dizzy

Sudden inability to move an extremity such as a foot, leg, hand or arm

Sudden numbness on one side of the body

TIA (transient ischemic attack) – a term used for when blood flow to part of the brain stops for a short time, usually less than 24 hours, and usually not causing brain damage. They can be a warning sign that a person might be at risk for a full stroke, and should not be ignored.

Education and prevention are important. There about 7 million stroke survivors right now, so there is always hope for good quality of life. Again, key factors to be aware of are high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and another I didn’t mention earlier is family history.  Recovery is a life-long process.