A stroke, or brain attack, happens when an artery carrying blood to part of the brain breaks or becomes clogged. When this happens, the part of the brain that was fed by the artery can die. Sometimes brain cells that are near the injured cells also begin to swell and stop working. Strokes affect people in different ways. This depends on the kind of stroke and the part of the brain involved. Weakness on one side of the face or body is common. A stroke can damage the senses. It can alter behavior, thoughts, and memory, the ability to speak and understand speech. The effects of strokes may be lifelong, because dead brain cells are not replaced. Swollen cells near the cells injured by the stroke can return to normal. Treatment for a stroke often involves reducing brain cell swelling so those cells that are still alive can function. Too much swelling inside the head can damage or kill brain cells.
A stroke can happen very rapidly. It is important to get medical care quickly so that further swelling of brain cells can be slowed. Sometimes patients who are having a stroke can be treated to lower their chances of having another stroke. It is possible, but less common to have a temporary stroke. This is caused by little pieces of blood clot or cholesterol temporarily blocking arteries in the brain. These are called Transient Ischemic Attacks, or TIAs. Patients may notice numbness or weakness that improves after a few minutes or hours. Persons with these temporary strokes have a very high chance of having a permanent stroke and should be treated.
It is important for a person who has had a stroke to begin to work with the part of the brain that has not been injured. This is called rehabilitation therapy. A patient can learn how to use other muscles or other parts of their brain to help make up for the injury caused by the stroke. A stroke can be a scary experience, but you might be surprised with the amount of improvement that happens during a rehabilitation program.
You have a higher than average chance of a stroke if you have:
- High blood pressure or cholesterol.
- Diabetes or heart disease.
- A smoking habit.