Cerebrovascular Accident (Stroke):
What is a Stroke?

A Stroke happens when the blood supply to the brain is upset in some way; as a result the brain cells are starved of oxygen, which causes some cells to die and leaves others damaged; most Strokes happen when a blood clot blocks one of the arteries, blood vessels, that carries blood to the brain; this type of Stroke is called an Ischaemic Stroke, Transient Ischaemic Attack (TIA) or Mini Stroke, which is a short term Stroke that lasts for less than 24 hours; the oxygen supply to the brain is quickly restored and symptoms disappear; a Transient Stroke needs prompt medical attention because it indicates a serious risk of a major Stroke.

Cerebral Thrombosis is when a blood clot, thrombus, forms in an artery that supplies blood to the brain; blood vessels that are furred up with fatty deposits, atheroma, make a blockage more likely; the clot prevents blood flowing to the brain and cells are starved of oxygen.

Cerebral Embolism is a blood clot that forms elsewhere in the body before travelling through the blood vessels and lodging in the brain; in the brain it starve cells of oxygen; an irregular heartbeat or recent heart attack may make you prone to forming blood clots.

Cerebral Haemorrhage is when a blood vessel bursts inside the brain and bleeds haemorrhages; with an haemorrhage, blood seeps into the brain tissue and causes extra damage.

What are the Symptoms of a Stroke?

Strokes usually happen suddenly and no two Strokes are the same and people can be affected in quite different ways; to an extent it depends on which area of the brain is damaged, because different parts control different abilities such as speaking, memory, swallowing and moving; the most common signs of a Stroke are:

Weakness down one side of the body, ranging from numbness to paralysis that can affect the arm and leg; Weakness down one side of the face, causing the mouth to droop; Speech may be difficult or become difficult to understand; Swallowing may be affected; Loss of muscle coordination or balance; Brief loss of vision; Severe headaches and/or Confusion; people who have had a severe Stroke may lose consciousness; unfortunately, the likelihood of such patients making a good recovery is poor.

Face-Arm-Speech Test (FAST): The Stroke Association says three simple checks can help you recognise whether someone has had a Stroke or mini-Stroke:

Facial weakness, can the person smile? Has the mouth or eye drooped?
Arm weakness, can the person raise both arms?
Speech problems, can the person speak clearly and understand you?
Test these symptoms!

If you suspect or notice any of these signs, DO NOT WAIT call 999 for an ambulance.

How is a Stroke Treated?

Brain scans are required to find out what type of Stroke has occurred; if a blood clot is the cause, 'Clot Busting' medication may be used to dissolve the clot, but this must be given within three hours of the Stroke; anti clotting medication such as aspirin may also be given to stop the Stroke from getting worse; however, anti clotting medication is not given in Strokes caused by haemorrhaging because it will make the bleeding worse.

Tests are carried out on key functions like swallowing and movement; and checks are made on oxygen, glucose and blood pressure levels; if swallowing is affected, the patient may be fed by a tube or given fluids into a vein, intravenously, to avoid food going into the lungs.

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