What Is an Acute Stroke?

Immediate treatment after a sudden stroke can help reduce long-term damage

Stroke artwork
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Definition: An acute stroke is a medical condition that occurs or develops, suddenly or abruptly. It can be either ischemic or hemorrhagic.

During an ischemic stroke, the blood supply to the brain is cut off because a blood vessel has been blocked by either a blood clot or atherosclerosis. Other causes of an ischemic stroke include the use of recreational drugs, blood clotting disorders or trauma to the blood vessels in the neck.

A hemorrhagic stroke occurs when an artery in the brain bleeds. This can be caused by an arterial venous malformation (AVM) or an aneurysm that has burst. It causes the blood pressure to build up within the skull. There are two types of hemorrhagic stroke – intracerebral and subarachnoid. A intracerebral hemorrhage occurs when a blood vessel in the brain ruptures and bleeds into the surrounding brain tissue. A subarachnoid hemorrhage occurs when blood accumulates in the space between the brain and the lining of the brain. The primary symptom of a subarachnoid hemorrhagic stroke is a sudden, severe headache in the back on the head.

Symptoms of a Stroke

A person who is having a stroke may not notice that they are experiencing symptoms but the major symptoms of a stroke include:

  • Numbness or weakness on one side of the body
  • Difficulty speaking
  • Difficulty with vision
  • Difficulty walking
  • A sudden, severe headache
  • Loss of balance or coordination
  • Trouble understanding

The headache may include a stiff neck, facial pain, pain between the eyes or, vomiting.

Risk Factors for Stroke

The most common risk factors for stroke include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, smoking and diabetes.

Additional risk factors for stroke include the following:

  • Prior stroke or heart attack
  • Pregnancy
  • A family history of stroke
  • Overweight
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Lack of physical exercise or activity
  • Use of birth control pills or other hormone therapies
  • Heavy or binge drinking
  • Illegal drug use

People over 55 years of and people of African-American descent have a higher risk of stroke.

Diagnosis of a Stroke

After a review of symptoms and a physical examination, the following diagnostic tests may be conducted:

  • CT scan
  • MRI scan
  • Complete blood count

Upon diagnosis of a stroke, it is important to identify the type of stroke and the cause of the stroke.

Treatment of Stroke

Medical assessment of a patient should be conducted in a hospital immediately after a stroke. The most common stroke is ischemic stroke. It is potentially treatable with tissue plasminogen activator (t-PA) but is only effective if the stroke patient is rapidly diagnosed and evaluated. Emergency treatment to break up the clot with t-PA is effective as long as the patient has received intravenous treatment within three hours of the onset of symptoms.

A combination of blood-vessel surgery and medication to control bleeding may be used in the treatment of a hemorrhagic stroke. Treatment may include clipping the burst aneurysm or an endovascular embolization where a coil is wrapped around the embolism in order to block blood flow.

Prevention of Stroke

Age, gender, heredity and ethnicity are not controllable. A patient with risk factors can reduce the risk of having a stroke by adjusting choices in lifestyle.

These prevention techniques include:

  • Lowering cholesterol and fat intake
  • Quitting smoking
  • Losing weight
  • Increasing level of physical activity
  • Reducing or limiting alcohol intake
  • Controlling blood sugar levels
  • Managing stress
  • Eliminating recreational drug usage

More strokes are caused by high blood pressure and it is the most treatable health condition. Patients with high blood pressure can control their blood pressure with medication known as anti-hypertensives.

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