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What is a stroke?

January 14, 2020 | Abigail Mckay

If you or a loved one has ever had a stroke, you understand the severity of the life-threatening condition. A stroke occurs when blood flow becomes blocked to a specific part of the brain. Brain tissue does not have oxygen without blood flow and begins to die. Intervention must be established quickly to prevent the mass destruction of brain tissue. The less brain tissue that passes through quick treatment, the better chance a person has for a well-rounded life and speedy recovery.  

There are three types of strokes, which include ischemic, hemorrhagic, and transient ischemic attack or TIA. Ischemic strokes, the most common, occurs when an artery becomes blocked. Hemorrhagic strokes are defined as leaking or busting blood vessels. TIA’s are the least severe form of a stroke because blood flow is only disrupted briefly. A small blood clot could have lodged in the brain but quickly passed through, thus restoring blood flow. Risk factors for a stroke include obesity, illegal drug usage, excessive alcohol consumption, high blood pressure, cigarette smoking, family history, and heart disease. 

Anyone of these three types of strokes is considered a medical emergency and should be treated as such. Symptoms of this medical emergency include difficulty speaking, vision changes, paralysis on one side of the body, severe headache, and trouble walking. The common acronym used to determine if a stroke is occurring is called FAST. But first, let’s review the outline below. 

1. F- Face. Ask the person to smile. Determine if only one side of their face responds.

2. A-Arms. Ask the person to raise both arms. Determine if both arms cannot be lifted or if one arm drops to the side.

3. S- Speech. Ask the person to say a short phrase or their name. Determine if the person can speak or can they speak without slurring their words.

4. T- Time. If any of the above signs are noticed, call 911 immediately. 

It is vital to call 911 and seek medical care promptly. Please do not allow the individual to drive, and do not drive them. First responders can start interventions immediately, which could save valuable time and brain tissue. Once at the hospital, a variety of tests will be conducted, usually starting with a CT scan. CT scans can show all types of strokes, and determining the nature of the stroke is crucial to decide the proper treatment. If an ischemic stroke is diagnosed, an intravenous drug can be given to break up the clot cutting off the blood supply to the brain. However, it can only be administered within a few hours after symptoms start. An endovascular procedure can also be initiated to remove the clot from the brain. However, surgery is usually the preferred treatment method if a hemorrhagic stroke is diagnosed.


Our clinical experts continually monitor the health and medical content posted on CURA4U, and we update our blogs and articles when new information becomes available. Last reviewed by Dr. Saad Zia on April 3rd, 2023.