A stroke is a “brain attack” which happens when the blood to a section of your brain tissue is suddenly cut off and brain tissue does not get its needed oxygen and nutrients. Within minutes, the brain cells begin to dye and affect how your body works or how you feel and think.
A stroke is a medical emergency: if you feel you are experiencing symptoms of a stroke, you should call 911 immediately.
Is a stroke the same as a TIA (Transient Ischemic Attack)?
Transient ischemic attack (TIA): a “mini stroke” occurs when a section of the brain does not get its needed blood supply but is able to recover quickly by getting blood from neighboring vessels. TIA’s typically last 15-20 minutes and resolve within 24 hours. Even after the symptoms resolve, you need to seek medical attention urgently because the risk of stroke is higher after a TIA.
Stroke: when the blood flow to a section of the brain ceases and the brain tissue does not recover, a lasting damage to the brain occurs. Patients may experience various symptoms, some of which may be severe and lasting.
What are symptoms of TIA or stroke?
It helps to think of the word BEFAST (Balance, Eyes, Face, Arm, Speech, Time) to remember TIA or stroke symptoms and what to do.
The symptoms may include:
- Sudden loss of balance
- Difficulty seeing in one eye
- Veil or shade coming down over one eye
- Weakness, numbness, drooping, or tingling of face (may just be on one side)
- Severe headache
- Trouble thinking
- Trouble swallowing
- Feeling dizzy along with one or more of the symptoms listed above
- Weakness, numbness, or tingling in your arm (one side of your body) e.g. dropping the phone, a cup or a pen or your hand becoming numb for unclear reason
- Weakness, numbness, or tingling in one leg e.g. the leg gives out under you and becomes limp
- Difficulty finding the words
- Difficulty saying the words
- Slurred speech
- Call 911 for emergency help right away if you have symptoms of a TIA or stroke.
- Time is of the essence: if you have had a TIA, you have a high risk of having a stroke. Do not ignore symptoms of a TIA. Get emergency medical care to help prevent a stroke as there is a treatment that can reduce the effect of the stroke within the first 6 hours of its occurrence.
What causes a stroke?
There are two main types of stroke:
- Ischemic stroke: This is the most common type of stroke. A narrowing or blockage stenosis) from a buildup of a plaque can slow or stop blood flow in your carotid artery. (see: Carotid Artery Disease)
- Hemorrhagic stroke: occurs when a blood vessel in your brain leaks or ruptures. Some of the common conditions which may cause hemorrhagic stroke include:
- Uncontrolled high blood pressure
- Bleeding from brain tissue after an ischemic stroke
- Uncontrolled blood thinners (anticoagulants)
- Weakened and enlarged blood vessel walls (aneurysms)
- Trauma (such as a car accident)
How is a TIA or stroke diagnosed?
Your healthcare provider will ask about your symptoms and medical history and examine you.
Tests may include:
- Ultrasound to study the carotid arteries and identify if significant plaque is present.
- CT scan to look at the neck arteries and brain tissue
- MRI to show detailed pictures of your brain and blood vessels
- Angiogram, which uses dye injected into a vein and X-rays to look at blood flow in the carotid arteries or brain
Am I at risk for a stroke?
Your risk of developing a carotid plaque is higher if you:
- Have high blood pressure
- Have high cholesterol
- Have a family history of stroke
- Are over the age of 55
- Are overweight
- Have atrial fibrillation
- Have diabetes or insulin resistance
- Suffer from Alcoholism
Time is precious when having a stroke. Act fast to notify someone.
To learn more, call us at South Charlotte General and Vascular Surgery or book an appointment online.