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URGENT CARE / ER CHECK-IN

Brain, Interrupted: What You Need to Know About Stroke

Brain, Interrupted: What You Need to Know About Stroke

In the United States, someone has a stroke every 40 seconds. And, every four minutes, someone dies of a stroke. You don’t need much more evidence than that to understand that stroke is a severe medical emergency.

Because time is of the essence in a stroke situation, it is essential to become familiar with signs of stroke, risk factors and what to do if you suspect a stroke is occurring.

To listen to an in-depth conversation on this topic with Dr. Rene Colorado, MD, Medical Director of the Stroke Center at the Salinas Valley Memorial Hospital, click here.

Types of Stroke

“A stroke occurs when the blood supply to a part of the brain is interrupted,” explains Dr. Rene Colorado, MD, Medical Director of the Stroke Center at the Salinas Valley Memorial Hospital. “This prevents the tissue from getting oxygen, nutrients and eventually brain cells die from this. The brain is actually very, very sensitive to lack of blood supply.”

There are two main categories of stroke: ischemic and hemorrhagic.

Ischemic stroke, also called dry stroke, occurs when a blood vessel in the brain is blocked. Dr. Colorado notes that dry strokes make up about 70 percent of strokes they see. “The blood supply doesn’t get to the brain and brain cells die from that,” he says. The blockage prevents proper blood flow.

Hemorrhagic or “wet” stroke occurs when there is bleeding inside the brain. About 30 percent of strokes are wet strokes. “Most of the time, these happen from a weakened blood vessel. The blood vessel ruptures, and the patients get bleeding inside the brain,” Dr. Colorado explains. Hemorrhagic strokes can be caused by high blood pressure, aneurysms, or malformations of the blood vessels in the brain.

Signs of Stroke

“Stroke is always sudden, because interruption from a blockage or from bleeding in the brain happens in a very sudden way,” notes Dr. Colorado. “The abrupt onset of any malfunction of the brain can be a sign of stroke.”

With this in mind, watch for weakness or numbness, particularly if it occurs on one side of the body. Speech difficulty, confusion, vision problems and trouble walking may also be indicators. Some patients develop a sudden headache that may be accompanied by other symptoms.

Stroke Risk Factors

Stroke is accompanied by uncontrollable risk factors, such as age, family history, gender, and race. Heart disease is another contributing factor. It is helpful to know your risk factors and reduce the risks you can control.

Dr. Colorado observes that high blood pressure is the main cause of hemorrhagic stroke. “When someone has high blood pressure and it is uncontrolled, that buildup of pressure can lead to the rupture of that vessel.” High blood pressure can also cause kidney and vision issues. Work with your primary care provider to know and manage your blood pressure.

Diabetes and high cholesterol also factor into stroke. “When someone has high cholesterol, they can develop buildup of plaque in the blood vessels; the ones in the brain and outside of the brain. Sometimes the buildup gets so severe that it interrupts the flow. The easiest way to think about it is like a plumbing pipe,” shares Dr. Colorado. “The plaque accumulates with calcium and cholesterol, and that can interrupt the blood flow. Sometimes that plaque can also break off and go to the brain and cause a blockage somewhere else.”

Smoking is a controllable risk factor that can almost double one’s risk. Additionally, lack of exercise, obesity and excessive alcohol use round out contributing factors one can control.

Act FAST

Again, a stroke situation requires individuals to act quickly. Knowing the FAST acronym can help you identify symptoms and have the best chances of mitigating the stroke.

F–Facial drooping. Watch for any part of the face to go slack.

A–Arm weakness. Note any lack of control.

S–Speech disturbances. Listen and watch for slurred speech or difficulty forming words.

T–Time is extremely important. Call 911.

Many times, doctors are able to interrupt the stroke or lessen its consequences—but only when immediate action is taken.

“Stroke is one of the most important medical emergencies there is,” cautions Dr. Colorado. “Unfortunately, compared to other situations, it can leave patients with serious long-term consequences. Patients often suffer difficulties with speech that are permanent; they’re not able to talk again or communicate effectively. Many patients end up not being able to walk again. So, the consequences of an untreated stroke are very serious. It changes a patient’s life drastically.”

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