Stroke is the fifth leading cause of death and a leading cause of disability among adults in the United States. A stroke can be devastating to patients and their families. Strokes can range from mild to severe and can happen at any age. They can occur in different parts of the brain and may affect different body functions.
A stroke, or “brain attack,” occurs when the blood supply stops flowing to a part of the brain. Brain cells die from the lack of oxygen. There are three main types of stroke:
Ischemic: An ischemic stroke occurs when a blood vessel that delivers blood to the brain is blocked by a blood clot. This is the most common type of stroke, making up about 87% of all strokes. Patients that have this type of stroke may be able to receive a medication that dissolves the clot called Tissue Plasminogen Activator (tPA). This medication can only be given within 4‑1/2 hours of when the stroke started so calling 911 with the first signs of stroke is vital.
Hemorrhagic: A hemorrhagic stroke occurs when a blood vessel in the brain ruptures and bleeds into the brain. This causes swelling, pressure and damage to the brain tissue. Hemorrhagic strokes are less common but are more likely to be fatal.
Transient Ischemic Attack (TIA): A TIA is a temporary blockage of a blood vessel in the brain that resolves within 24 hours of symptom onset. The underlying causes for a TIA are the same as an ischemic stroke and having a TIA is a serious warning sign of a future stroke. A large portion of patients with TIA will go on to have an actual stroke and many of those will have the stroke within the first few days after the TIA.
It is important to know the early signs of stroke. Call 911 immediately if you or someone you are with shows signs of having a stroke. Do not try to drive yourself to the hospital. It is important to get care quickly because you may be given a medicine that can reduce or even reverse damage caused by some strokes. It must be given soon after symptoms start. Treatment and recovery may depend on how soon you get care.
Stroke symptoms can vary. They can start slowly or come on quickly. You may wake up with the symptoms. Act quickly and call 911 immediately if these symptoms come on SUDDENLY:
A stroke can happen with just one of these symptoms. Sometimes people have stroke‑like symptoms that go away quickly (called a transient ischemic attack or TIA.) Do not ignore these signs! Many people who have these warning signs go on to have a stroke.
Stroke strikes fast. You should too. Call 911.
People at greater risk for stroke include the elderly, those who have had a stroke or stroke‑like symptoms, and people with a family history of stroke. Health conditions and behaviors that increase your risk for stroke include:
What should you do if you are at increased risk for stroke?
Talk to your doctor about your risks and how to lower them to help prevent a stroke. Know your blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar results. Ask what you can do to improve them. When talking to your doctor, write down the answers and make sure you understand what you are hearing. Do not be afraid to speak up or ask where you can find more information. Tell your doctor what medicines you are taking. Include prescriptions, over‑the‑counter medicines and herbal supplements. Also tell your doctor about any special diet you are following.
Be prepared by finding out where to get the best stroke care possible. The American Heart Association/American Stroke Association publishes a free locator of Joint Commission‑certified stroke centers. Antelope Valley Hospital is an Advanced Primary Stroke Center.
Ask a friend or relative to be your advocate. If you have a severe stroke, your advocate can be your eyes, ears, arms and legs if you are unable to do things for yourself.
Consider getting legal documents such as a healthcare proxy or a power of attorney, if you do not already have them. A stroke may cause you to be confused or unable to speak, so you may want to designate someone you trust to make decisions when you cannot.
What happens after a stroke?
After a stroke, you will probably have many questions about what happened and what treatments are available. If the stroke was severe, you may not be able to ask questions for yourself. You or your advocate should ask:
In the case of a severe stroke, your advocate can also:
What can you expect in recovery?
No one can predict how long it will take to recover from a stroke, or how much you will recover. What is important is to prevent another stroke. If you have had a stroke, the chance of having another one increases. Speak up and tell your doctor you want to reduce your risk of having another stroke.
Before leaving the hospital, you and your advocate should work with the social worker and care team to determine how to continue your recovery. Ask:
During this time, it is important to: