- There are two main types of stroke: ischemic, which is caused by plaque or a blood clot in the brain, and hemorrhagic, which is when a blood vessel ruptures or leaks into the brain.
- The symptoms of a stroke include the slurring of speech, numbness on one side of the body, loss of balance, headache, and vision difficulty.
- A stroke can be treated in a number of ways including prescription blood thinners, surgery, and lifestyle changes.
- This article was reviewed by John Osborne, MD, PhD, and the Director of Cardiology for Dallas-based State of the Heart Cardiology.
- Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.
In the US, strokes kill about 140,000 people annually. That equates to someone dying of a stroke every 4 minutes, according to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.
But being aware of the causes and symptoms of a stroke – and understanding how to prevent and treat them – can lead to better outcomes. Here’s what you need to know.
The main types of stroke
There are two main types of stroke, according to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute:
- Ischemic. “An ischemic stroke occurs when blood vessels to the brain are narrowed by a buildup of plaque or a blood clot travelling to that blood vessel,” says Steven Reisman, MD, a cardiologist at New York Cardiac Diagnostic Centre. It is the most common type: 87% of all strokes are ischemic.
- Hemorrhagic. When a blood vessel in the brain ruptures or leaks, Reisman says you’ve suffered a hemorrhagic stroke. Intracerebral hemorrhagic stroke (bleeding inside the brain) makes up 10% of all strokes, while the remaining 3% are subarachnoid (bleeding outside the brain).
Major symptoms and risk factors of stroke
According to Reisman, the symptoms for both types of stroke include slurring of speech, difficulty understanding speech, numbness or weakness on one side of the body, confusion, loss of balance, headache with no known cause, and vision difficulty in one or both eyes. Every minute counts, so if you experience these symptoms, you should call 911 right away.
While not considered a major, debilitating stroke like an ischemic stroke, a transient ischemic attack (TIA) is a type of ischemic stroke that passes quickly. Your doctor will likely refer to it as a “mini-stroke.” The symptoms are similar to other types of strokes, but they are short-lived, with most lasting less than five minutes.
Even though the blood flow to the brain is only blocked for a short time, it is still considered a serious medical emergency. It’s critical to pay attention to TIA since it can be a warning sign of a more serious stroke.
In fact, an international case-control study in 2010 found that hypertension is present in 54% of strokes. High blood pressure puts extra stress on your heart, and the American Stroke Association says that over time, this heavy workload damages your arteries and organs and can result in a stroke.
Finally, diabetes can increase your chances of having a stroke since people with diabetes also tend to have hypertension.
Treatment and outlook
“The most important part of treatment is to diagnose and begin therapy as soon as possible,” Reisman says. Research has found that the risk of harm increases as time goes by after the onset of symptoms, and the earlier you take medication, the more effective it will be.
Tissue plasminogen activators (tPA) like alteplase, approved by the FDA for treatment in ischemic strokes, are used to dissolve the clot and improve blood flow to the brain. A 2015 review in the Canadian Medical Association Journal found that when given within 4.5 hours of the first symptoms of an ischemic stroke, alteplase decreased functional disability by 7% to 13% relative to placebo.
For patients with acute ischemic strokes, another option is a thrombectomy. According to Jason Tarpley, MD, PhD, stroke neurologist at Providence Saint John’s Health Centre, this is the surgical removal of the blockage in patients with stroke from a large vessel occlusion. To be effective, the procedure should be done within six hours of acute stroke symptoms.
Adopting lifestyle modifications after a stroke is an important way to reduce your risk of having another one. Key changes include getting regular exercise and improving your diet. If you smoke, talk to your doctor about a smoking cessation program and also consider reducing your alcohol intake.
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- 11 dangerous things that science has linked to a higher risk of having a stroke