A stroke, sometimes called a brain attack, occurs when something blocks the blood supply to part of the brain or when a blood vessel in the brain bursts. In either case, parts of the brain become damaged or die. A stroke can cause lasting brain damage, long-term disability, or even death.
Learn more about what causes stroke and what happens during a stroke.
To understand stroke, it helps to understand the brain. The brain controls our movements, stores our memories, and is the source of our thoughts, emotions, and language. The brain also controls many functions of the body, like breathing and digestion.
To work properly, your brain needs oxygen. Although your brain makes up only 2% of your body weight, it uses 20% of the oxygen you breathe.1 Your arteries deliver oxygen-rich blood to all parts of your brain.
What Happens During a Stroke
If something happens to block the flow of blood, brain cells start to die within minutes because they can’t get oxygen. This causes a stroke.
There are two types of stroke:
● An ischemic stroke occurs when blood clots or other particles block the blood vessels to the brain. Fatty deposits called plaque can also cause blockages by building up in the blood vessels.
● A hemorrhagic stroke occurs when a blood vessel bursts in the brain. Blood builds up and damages surrounding brain tissue.
Both types of stroke damage brain cells. Symptoms of that damage start to show in the parts of the body controlled by those brain cells.
During a stroke, every minute counts! Fast treatment can lessen the brain damage that stroke can cause.
By knowing the signs and symptoms of stroke, you can take quick action and perhaps save a life—maybe even your own.
Signs of Cerebral hemorrhage in Men and Women
● Sudden numbness or weakness in the face, arm, or leg, especially on one side of the body.
● Sudden confusion, trouble speaking, or difficulty understanding speech.
● Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes.
● Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance, or lack of coordination.
● Sudden severe headache with no known cause.
Symptoms of Cerebral hemorrhage depend on which part of the brain is damaged. In some cases, a person may not know that a stroke has occurred.
Most of the time, symptoms develop suddenly and without warning. But symptoms may occur on and off for the first day or two. Symptoms are usually most severe when the stroke first happens, but they may slowly get worse.
A headache may occur if the stroke is caused by bleeding in the brain. The headache:
• Starts suddenly and may be severe
• May be worse when you are lying flat
• Wakes you up from sleep
• Gets worse when you change positions or when you bend, strain, or cough
Other symptoms depend on how severe the stroke is, and what part of the brain is affected. Symptoms may include:
• Change in alertness (including sleepiness, unconsciousness, and coma)
• Changes in hearing or taste
• Changes that affect touch and the ability to feel pain, pressure, or different temperatures
• Confusion or loss of memory
• Problems swallowing
• Problems writing or reading
• Dizziness or abnormal feeling of movement (vertigo)
• Eyesight problems, such as decreased vision, double vision, or total loss of vision
• Lack of control over the bladder or bowels
• Loss of balance or coordination or trouble walking
• Muscle weakness in the face, arm, or leg (usually just on one side)
• Numbness or tingling on one side of the body
• Personality, mood, or emotional changes
• Trouble speaking or understanding others who are speaking
A Cerebral hemorrhage is a medical emergency. Quick treatment is needed. Call 911 or the local emergency number right away or seek urgent medical care at the first signs of a stroke.
People who are having stroke symptoms need to get to a hospital as quickly as possible.
• If the stroke is caused by a blood clot, a clot-busting drug may be given to dissolve the clot.
• To be effective, this treatment must be started within 3 to 4 1/2 hours of when the symptoms first started. The sooner this treatment is started, the better the chance of a good outcome.
Other treatments given in the hospital depend on the cause of the stroke. These may include:
• Blood thinners such as heparin, warfarin (Coumadin), aspirin, or clopidogrel (Plavix)
• Medicine to control risk factors, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and high cholesterol
• Special procedures or surgery to relieve symptoms or prevent more strokes
• Nutrients and fluids
Physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy, and swallowing therapy will all begin in the hospital. If the person has severe swallowing problems, a feeding tube in the stomach (gastrostomy tube) will likely be needed.
The goal of treatment after a stroke is to help you recover as much function as possible and prevent future strokes.
Recovery from your stroke will begin while you are still in the hospital or at a rehabilitation center. It will continue when you go home from the hospital or center. Be sure to follow up with your health care provider after you go home.
Exams and Tests
The doctor will do a physical exam to:
• Check for problems with vision, movement, feeling, reflexes, understanding, and speaking. Your doctor and nurses will repeat this exam over time to see if your stroke is getting worse or improving.
• Listen to the carotid arteries in the neck with a stethoscope for an abnormal sound, called a bruit, which is caused by abnormal blood flow.
• Check for high blood pressure.
You may have the following tests to help find the type, location, and cause of the stroke and rule out other problems:
• CT scan of the brain to determine if there is any bleeding
• MRI of the brain to determine the location of the stroke
• Angiogram of the head to look for a blood vessel that is blocked or bleeding
• Carotid duplex (ultrasound) to see if the carotid arteries in your neck have narrowed
• Echocardiogram to see if the stroke could have been caused by a blood clot from the heart
• Magnetic resonance angiography (MRA) or CT angiography to check for abnormal blood vessels in the brain
Other tests include:
• Blood tests
• Electroencephalogram (EEG) to determine if there are seizures
• Electrocardiogram (ECG) and heart rhythm monitoring