SciTech

HealthTalk: Stroke

Blood flow is undoubtedly crucial for survival, and when it is interrupted in our body’s most vital organ, the brain, this can lead to disastrous results. Blood supplies nutrients and oxygen to the brain, which uses a disproportionally high amount of the body’s energy. According to www.mayoclinic.com, when the flow of blood is interrupted to any part of the brain, it is called a stroke. When cells in the brain do not receive any nutrients, they die, a process that may take only minutes.

Blood flow may be interrupted for two major reasons: Blood vessels may become blocked, or they may burst. When blood vessels are blocked, it is usually because of a blood clot. Clots are caused when fats, cholesterol, and other molecules build up within artery walls, forming plaque and making it more difficult for blood to move through arteries. The buildup of plaque inhibits blood flow and eventually forms a clot.

Blood clots may be formed in the brain, which would cause a thrombotic stroke. They may also be formed elsewhere in the body, travel through the bloodstream, and become stuck in the brain, causing an embolic stroke.

When blood vessels break, it is usually because the walls of the artery have weakened to the point where a rupture can occur. According to MedlinePlus, this weakening of arterial walls may be due to many factors, including genetics, diabetes, heart disease, and age. A stroke that occurs from a broken blood vessel is called a hemorrhagic stroke, and it is usually more severe than those caused by blood clots.

The effects of having a stroke vary greatly depending on the area of the brain affected, and the duration. Since different parts of the brain control different bodily functions, the symptoms of a stroke differ greatly between individuals. Unfortunately, many stroke victims do not realize they are having a stroke, so it is necessary to know some common signs of a stroke. Some symptoms that are more prevalent among stroke patients include severe headaches and slurred speech. Another common sign is a numbness or loss of motor function in only one side of the body or face. Other symptoms include a loss of balance or coordination, any changes in alertness, and difficulty with tasks such as swallowing, talking, writing, or reading.

A physician may order a variety of tests to ascertain whether or not a stroke has occurred. According to WebMD, a common first test is a CT scan, which uses X-rays to determine if there is bleeding in the brain. A subsequent MRI can be used to predict recovery outcomes through damage assessment. Oftentimes, stroke victims recover fully enough to function by themselves at home; according to Google Health, this amounts to half of stroke victims. With medication, symptoms of a stroke may also disappear.

To prevent a stroke, the best people can do is to diligently watch their health. Eating a low-fat diet and keeping alcoholic drinks to a minimum will help prevent strokes. Exercise is also thought to help, and it contributes to a healthier lifestyle in general. Having blood pressure and cholesterol levels checked by a doctor may help predict the occurrence of a stroke; high values for both indicate an elevated risk for stroke. Quitting smoking will also contribute to a healthier lifestyle. Simply by living healthily, the risk for stroke will decrease.