A stroke is usually categorized as one of two types:
- Ischemic. About 80 percent of all strokes are ischemic which means there is a lack of blood supply to an area of the brain, resulting in some of the cells dying. This happens when blood vessels to the brain become narrow or clogged, cutting off blood flow to the brain cells.
- Hemorrhagic. This type of stroke occurs when there is a tear in the wall of an artery in the brain. Leaking or rupturing occurs, producing bleeding into or around the brain.
The effects of a stroke, including the severity of those effects, depend on where in the brain it has occurred and the extent of the damage.
Since brain cells require a constant supply of oxygen to stay healthy and function properly, blood needs to be supplied continuously to the brain through two main arterial systems:
- The carotid arteries which come up through either side of the front of the neck.
- The basilar and vertebral arteries which begin at the base of the skull and run up along the spine, join, and come up through the rear of the neck.
Blockage of blood flow to the brain for even a short period of time can be disastrous and cause brain damage or even death.
In some cases, patients may experience a “warning stroke” or Transient Ischemic Attack (TIA). A TIA occurs when blood flow to a certain area of the brain briefly stops. The person has the same signs of a stroke, but the signs go away completely. The difference between a stroke and a TIA is that the TIA is a warning sign. It never results in permanent damage and because of that it can never be seen on a CT scan or an MRI scan.
The best way to prevent a stroke is identifying what factors increase your risk for having a stroke. There are two types of risk factors, those you can control and those you cannot control.
Uncontrollable stroke risk factors:
- Age - Strokes can occur at any age, but two-thirds of all strokes occur in people over the age of 65
- Gender - The incidence of stroke is slightly higher for men
- Race - African Americans and Hispanics have a greater risk for stroke than other races
- Family History - People who have a parent or sibling who have had a stroke are at a greater risk
- Personal History of Diabetes – Having diabetes triples a person’s risk for having a stroke
Controllable stroke risk factors:
- High Blood Pressure
- Heart Disease - especially atrial fibrillation, an irregular heart beat
- High Cholesterol
- Previous Stroke or TIA
- Excessive Alcohol Intake
- Excess Weight
- Lack of Exercise
- Illicit Drug Use - amphetamines, cocaine
- Carotid Stenosis - The carotid arteries on either side of the neck can collect plaque and interrupt blood flow to the brain
Other stroke risk factors:
- Blood Abnormalities - Sickle Cell, Leukemia, High Homocysteine, Polycythemia and others
- Infectious Diseases - TB, Syphilis, Endocarditis, HIV and others
- Inflammatory Diseases - Lupus, Vasculitis
- High-dose Estrogen - especially with cigarette smoking, hypertension and migraine
- Sleep Apnea – Patients who snore may have increased risk for future strokes and heart attacks
How to Reduce Stroke Risk
The more of these risk factors you have, the more likely you are to have a stroke. Some of these risk factors can be treated or controlled, such as high blood pressure and smoking. Other risk factors, such as age and gender, can’t be controlled. That is why is it important to talk to a healthcare professional about ways to reduce your risk of a stroke.
The experts at Summa Health System can help. Our Center for Stroke Care, located at Akron City Hospital, has been recognized six consecutive years by the American Heart Association (AHA) and American Stroke Association with their Get With The Guidelines® Stroke Gold Plus Quality Achievement Award.
For more information about controlling your risk factors or questions concerning stroke, contact us at (855) 345-4677.