A stroke is when the blood supply to any part of the brain is interrupted, resulting in tissue death and loss of brain function.
Causes and risks
The most common
cause of stroke is atherosclerosis. (See stroke
secondary to atherosclerosis.) A stroke may be caused by a blood
clot that forms
in the brain (a thrombus) or a blood clot, piece of
plaque, or other material that travels to the brain from another location (an embolism). Bleeding (hemorrhage) within the brain can, on
rare occasions, cause symptoms that mimic stroke.
A stroke caused by a blood clot in the brain (a thrombus) is most common in older people, and often there is underlying atherosclerosis or diabetes. This type of stroke may occur at any time, including at rest. The person may or may not lose consciousness.
Strokes caused by embolism (a blood clot that travels to the brain) are most commonly caused by heart disorders .The probable outcome is worsened if blood vessels damaged by stroke rupture and bleed (hemorrhagic stroke).
Stroke prevention involves controlling the risk factors. Treat hypertension, diabetes, heart disease, and other associated disorders. Reduce or stop smoking. A low-cholesterol, low-salt diet may be appropriate if the risk factors include atherosclerosis or hypertension. Exercise more.
Tests may determine the location and cause of the stroke and rule out other disorders that can cause the symptoms:
Life support and coma treatment are performed as needed.
A number of medications may be used. RTPA is a medicine that lyses the clot and potentially restores blood flow to the affected area to prevent cell death and permanent damage. However, there are strict criteria for who can receive RTPA -- most important is that the stroke victim be evaluated and treated by a specialized stroke team within 3 hours of onset of symptoms. It is a controversial medication because there is a risk of serious bleeding.
In appropriate circumstances, other
anti-coagulants such as heparin and coumadin are used to prevent recurrent
strokes. Aspirin and other anti-platelet agents are used to prevent strokes as
Analgesics may be needed to control severe headache. Anti-hypertensive medication may be needed to control high blood pressure.
Nutrients and fluids may be necessary, especially if the person has swallowing difficulties. The nutrients and fluids may given through an intravenous tube or a tube in the stomach (feeding tube or gastrostomy tube). Swallowing difficulties may be temporary or permanent.
Surgery may be appropriate in some cases, including surgical removal of blood clots from the brain.
Carotid endarterectomy, removal of plaque from the carotid arteries, may help prevent new strokes from occurring in some people.
The recovery time and need for long-term treatment vary. Depression and other symptoms should be treated.
Speech therapy, occupational therapy, physical therapy, positioning, range of motion exercises, and other therapies may prevent complications and promote maximum recovery of function. People should stay active within their physical limitations. In some cases, urinary catheterization or bladder/bowel control programs may be necessary to control incontinence.