Death of brain cells due to poor blood flow. Strokes can cause various symptoms depending on the area of brain affected, but leg/arm weakness, speech difficulty, poor vision, incontinence, memory loss, and confusion are among the most common. Severe strokes can be fatal or cause serious long term disability although rapid specialised treatment can improve outcomes considerably – anyone with a suspected stroke should be rushed to emergency care. A stroke is one form of cardiovascular disease (other main ones being heart attack and peripheral vascular disease) and the risk factors are the same: overweight, lack of exercise, smoking, diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol. High blood pressure is especially important as a risk factor for stroke.
|Synonyms||cerebrovascular accident (CVA), cerebrovascular insult (CVI), brain attack|
|CT scan of the brain showing a right-hemispheric ischemic stroke.|
|Classification and external resources|
|eMedicine||neuro/9 emerg/558 emerg/557 pmr/187|
A stroke is when poor blood flow to the brain results in cell death. There are two main types of stroke: ischemic, due to lack of blood flow, and hemorrhagic, due to bleeding. They result in part of the brain not functioning properly. Signs and symptoms of a stroke may include an inability to move or feel on one side of the body, problems understanding or speaking, feeling like the world is spinning, or loss of vision to one side. Signs and symptoms often appear soon after the stroke has occurred. If symptoms last less than one or two hours it is known as a transient ischemic attack (TIA) or mini-stroke. A hemorrhagic stroke may also be associated with a severe headache. The symptoms of a stroke can be permanent. Long-term complications may include pneumonia or loss of bladder control.
The main risk factor for stroke is high blood pressure. Other risk factors include tobacco smoking, obesity, high blood cholesterol, diabetes mellitus, previous TIA, and atrial fibrillation. An ischemic stroke is typically caused by blockage of a blood vessel, though there are also less common causes. A hemorrhagic stroke is caused by either bleeding directly into the brain or into the space between the brain's membranes. Bleeding may occur due to a ruptured brain aneurysm. Diagnosis is typically with medical imaging such as a CT scan or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan along with a physical exam. Other tests such as an electrocardiogram (ECG) and blood tests are done to determine risk factors and rule out other possible causes. Low blood sugar may cause similar symptoms.
Prevention includes decreasing risk factors, as well as possibly aspirin, statins, surgery to open up the arteries to the brain in those with problematic narrowing, and warfarin in those with atrial fibrillation. A stroke or TIA often requires emergency care. An ischemic stroke, if detected within three to four and half hours, may be treatable with a medication that can break down the clot. Aspirin should be used. Some hemorrhagic strokes benefit from surgery. Treatment to try to recover lost function is called stroke rehabilitation and ideally takes place in a stroke unit; however, these are not available in much of the world.
In 2013 approximately 6.9 million people had an ischemic stroke and 3.4 million people had a hemorrhagic stroke. In 2010 there were about 33 million people who had previously had a stroke and were still alive. Between 1990 and 2010 the number of strokes which occurred each year decreased by approximately 10% in the developed world and increased by 10% in the developing world. In 2013, stroke was the second most frequent cause of death after coronary artery disease, accounting for 6.4 million deaths (12% of the total). About 3.3 million deaths resulted from ischemic stroke while 3.2 million deaths resulted from hemorrhagic stroke. About half of people who have had a stroke live less than one year. Overall, two thirds of strokes occurred in those over 65 years old.