Chronic Disease & Prevention · Stroke

Stroke: What Is It?

Stroke is the 5th leading cause of death in the United States and the 2nd leading cause of death worldwide.

Do I have your attention?

Not only that, but according to the American Stroke Association, 80% of strokes are preventable.

Alas, I think they are worth discussing. I want to empower you, the general public who are not neurological medical professionals, to prevent and recognize strokes in yourselves, family members, friends and community. It’s a big deal! If we can prevent death and the all-too-often devastating consequences of a stroke, why wouldn’t we?

So what exactly is a stroke?

A stroke happens when there is an issue with a blood vessel leading to or existing in the brain. Our blood vessels are what carry oxygen and nutrients to the various organs in our bodies so they may continue to function properly. Our organs, especially our brain, cannot survive without oxygen. It only take 5 minutes of a lack of oxygen to the brain for brain cells to start dying and damage to start occurring. 5 minutes! That isn’t much time. At. All.

A stroke can happen in one of two ways. The first, is from a blockage in one of these blood vessels, often called an ischemic stroke, meaning insufficient blood supply. These are often caused by a blood clot forming elsewhere in the body and traveling to the brain. The second is referred to as a hemorrhagic stroke, or a blood vessel that has burst and is leaking blood into an area of the brain it shouldn’t be. You see, our brain only has a designated amount of area to exist and when extra fluid is building up in the same area where brain is supposed to fit, the brain begins to get squished and can shift around in its “home”, causing pressure to build up in brain areas that it shouldn’t.

What can cause a stroke?

Well, that depends on the kind of stroke you are having.

Ischemic strokes (often caused by a clot or fat deposit) account for 87% of strokes. So most likely, this is the kind of stroke that is occurring, unless other specific criteria are present. Risk factors for an ischemic stroke include:

  • Atherosclerosis
    • Often caused by high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes and/or smoking
  • Diabetes
    • Doubles the risk of stroke
  • High Blood Pressure
  • High Cholesterol
  • Smoking
  • Physical Inactivity
  • Atrial Fibrillation (an irregular heart rhythm)
    • Increases risk of stroke by 5-fold
  • A blood disorder
  • Excessive alcohol intake

Hemorrhagic strokes are responsible for about 13-15% of strokes. They are often caused by a brain aneurysm or a blood vessel leak, typically induced by high blood pressure or trauma. Increased risk for this type occurs in individuals with:

  • Increased age
  • High Blood Pressure
  • Bleeding Disorders
  • Taking Blood Thinners
  • Arteriovenous Malformations
  • Smoking
  • Taking Birth Control Medication
  • Use of Illegal Drugs

I hope this introduction to strokes has been helpful. Tune in 2 weeks from today to read up of prevention of strokes.


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