Every year around 1.5 million Indians experience a stroke, yet the majority of the population remains unaware of it. Read more to discover what a stroke is, its symptoms, diagnosis, treatment, and more.
What is a stroke?
What are the types of stroke?
- Ischaemic stroke – The fine blood vessels that supply the brain are blocked by fatty deposits or blood clots, thus resulting in blood flow being cut off to certain areas. This is the most frequently seen type of stroke
- Hemorrhagic stroke – Certain conditions lead to leakage or rupture of blood vessels in the brain. Though this type of stroke is less common than ischaemic stroke, these are more life-threatening
What are the causes of stroke?
- Ischaemic stroke
– Blood clots formed within the blood vessels that supply blood to the brain (thrombotic stroke)
– Blood clots formed elsewhere in the body move with the blood into the blood vessels in the brain and cause blockage (embolic stroke)
- Hemorrhagic stroke
– High blood pressure
– Bulges or weak spots in blood vessels that rupture (aneurysms)
– Head trauma
– Overuse of blood thinner medicines
What are the risk factors for stroke?
- High blood sugar
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol level in the blood
- Heavy alcoholism
- Use of cocaine, methamphetamine etc.
- Lack of exercise
- Family history
- Obstructive sleep apnoea
What are the symptoms of a stroke?
- Drooping of one side of the face
- Inability to move arms, legs, face or parts of the body (typically on one side)
- Numbness of the face, legs, arms or body (typically on one side)
- Difficulty in walking and maintaining balance
- Inability to speak or slurred speech
- Severe sudden persistent headaches
- Sudden vision changes including blurring, loss or double vision in one or both eyes
What is a mini-stroke?
What should I do if I experience symptoms of stroke?
If you experience symptoms of a stroke, alert someone who will be able to help you. In the event that nobody is closeby –
- Immediately call an ambulance and get yourself admitted. Do not drive yourself to the hospital because your condition may worsen on the way
- Do not take any tablets such as aspirin. You may not know what type of stroke you have. Aspirin is a blood thinner that can make your condition worse if you are experiencing a hemorrhagic stroke
Time is an important factor in the medical care for stroke. The longer you wait, more areas of your brain may get damaged, and the more severe your damage may be. Hence, shift to hospital as soon as possible.
How do I respond if I witness someone having a stroke?
- Immediately call an ambulance and shift the person to a hospital with facilities for managing stroke.
- Keep a mental note of the symptoms and when they began
- While the person is still conscious, try to learn about their medical history. This includes details of diseases, medicines and allergies
- Attempt CPR if the person loses consciousness
- Do not give any medicine to the person as it may worsen the condition
- Do not attempt to give food or water to the person
- Stay calm
How is a stroke diagnosed?
- Medical history and physical examination – The doctor will enquire about the symptoms, history of medical problems and medicines that your loved one is taking. They will also examine them for numbness, weakness, reflexes etc.
- Blood tests – To find out blood cholesterol and sugar levels
- Brain scans – CT or MRI scans to identify if the stroke is caused by blockage of blood vessels or bleeding into the brain, which area of the brain is affected and how severe the condition is
- Carotid ultrasound – Ultrasound of this large artery in the brain to find out if there is any narrowing or blockage to this
- Cerebral angiogram – In this, a dye is injected into the blood vessels which makes them clear in X-rays. This is done to assess if there is any blockage or narrowing of the blood vessels
Echocardiogram – This is done to obtain a detailed view of your heart to find out if there are any problems that are related to your stroke
How can I prevent stroke?
- Eat a healthy balanced diet. Avoid junk food and limit the intake of salt, sugar and fat
- Avoid smoking
- Limit intake of alcohol
- Adopt an active lifestyle and exercise regularly
- Avail proper treatment for diabetes, high blood pressure and high blood cholesterol levels
What are the treatment options for stroke?
The emergency treatment depends on the type of stroke experienced by the person.
- Ischaemic stroke
– Medicines for dissolving the clot (Thrombolytics) – Alteplase, tenecteplase etc. should be given as injection within 4.5 hours from the beginning of symptoms
– Thrombectomy – A catheter is introduced to the artery in the groin and is guided to the region of the blood clot. The blood clot is removed using a device or suction which is passed through a catheter
– Carotid endarterectomy- If the cause of ischemic stroke is the narrowing of the carotid artery (a large artery on the neck) due to fatty deposits, it is unblocked surgically
- Haemorrhagic stroke
– Medicines to reduce blood pressure
– If the person has been on blood thinners, then blood transfusion or medicines to reverse the effects of the medicine
– Surgery (craniotomy)- This is done to remove the blood from the brain and to repair the ruptured blood vessels
- Supportive therapy and rehabilitation
– Medicines for controlling underlying health conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol levels in the blood
– Feeding tubes may be necessary if the person has difficulty swallowing
– Speech therapy – This is useful for people who have difficulty speaking clearly
– Physical therapy – This helps your loved one relearn movements and coordination
– Occupational therapy – This helps in resuming day-to-day activities including eating, bathing, reading and writing
A very important aspect of recovering from a stroke is the support and care extended by family and peers. Be patient with those who are recovering from stroke and encourage them to be more active. Additionally, help and encourage them to make necessary lifestyle changes to prevent a second stroke.