Stroke Buzz Words

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If you or someone you care about has recently been evaluated for a possible stroke, you have probably been hearing some medical terms that sound familiar, but that you have not really thought about much until now. When you understand some of the most common stroke terminology, you can get a better handle on the big picture when it comes to your health or the health of your loved one.

  • A stroke is brain damage caused by a lack of blood supply to a region of the brain. 
  • A  TIA is a transient ischemic attack, which is characterized by temporary stroke symptoms that return to normal. A TIA is also often called a mini-stroke.
  • A CVA is a cerebrovascular accident, which means that the blood supply to a region of the brain has been impaired, causing either a TIA or a stroke. Most of the time CVA refers to a completed stroke, but it can be used to describe either a TIA or a stroke. 
  • A stroke can be caused by an infarct or a hemorrhage.  An infarct refers to an event involving a lack of blood supply to an area of the brain. A thrombus is a blood clot that can block blood from flowing through a blood vessel. 
  • An embolus is a blood clot that has traveled from one location of the body to another through a blood vessel, and essentially 'landed' in a blood vessel, blocking blood flow. When a region of the brain lacks blood supply, the lack of adequate blood to the tissue is called ischemia.
  • A hemorrhage is bleeding. Most strokes are caused by a thrombus or embolus interrupting blood supply to a part of the brain, while some strokes are caused by a hemorrhage in a region of the brain. When there is bleeding in a blood vessel, this also causes a lack of adequate flow of blood supply nearby, so ischemia accompanies a hemorrhage. A hemorrhage causes damage in 2 ways- bleeding into an area of the brain and ischemia to an area of the brain. A TIA is caused by an embolus or thrombus that quickly resolves. Sometimes the type of stroke is identified as cortical, sub-cortical or lacunar.
  • A cortical stroke involves the regions of the brain associated with integrating high-level thinking and movement. A cortical stroke is typically larger than a subcortical stroke and may result in more swelling of brain tissue. A subcortical stroke generally affects a smaller region of the brain, but may still cause significant symptoms of weakness or sensory loss on one side of the body. A lacunar stroke usually refers to a small stroke caused by a blockage or bleeding of a tiny blood vessel. Usually, lacunar strokes are subcortical. 
  • Anti-platelet therapy is blood thinning medication given to prevent blood clots. It is often used after a stroke to prevent recurrence or enlargement of a thrombus or emboli. Sometimes hemorrhagic strokes are treated with anti-platelet therapy, but most are not treated with anti-platelet therapy to avoid the risk of recurrent bleeding. This is a very specialized decision making process that your doctor will discuss with you in detail.
  • TPA is tissue plasminogen activator, an emergency treatment that can be given in the early stages of some strokes to prevent the clot from growing. If used within a short time frame, the use of TPA can restore blood supply to critical areas of the brain to prevent extensive brain damage. TPA is generally administered in selected cases and only in specialized centers. There is a high risk of bleeding in the brain or other parts of the body because it is a potent anti-blood clotting treatment, so most people with strokes are not candidates for TPA treatment.
  • Edema is swelling that occurs in the brain. The body often responds to injury by swelling, and the brain is no exception. Cortical strokes are more likely to produce edema than subcortical strokes or lacunar strokes. Because the brain is enclosed in the protective skull without much extra space, excessive edema can cause pressure on brain tissue, which can be dangerous. Close monitoring and careful management of fluids are necessary when edema occurs in the brain.

Use the Internet to learn more about stroke and don't hesitate to ask your health care team to explain anything about your care that you do not understand so that you can  get the most out of your doctor visits.

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