What is a stroke?

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January 14, 2020 | Abigail Mckay

What is a stroke?

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

There are three different 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 a leaking or busted blood vessel. TIA’s are the least severe form of a stroke because blood flow is only disrupted for a short period. Essentially, a small blood clot could have become lodged in the brain but then quickly passes 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 associated with 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. 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 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. 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, there will be a variety of tests that will be conducted, usually starting with a CT scan. CT scans can show all types of strokes, and the determination of the nature of stroke is crucial to decide proper treatment. If an ischemic stroke is diagnosed, there is an intravenous drug that can be given that can break up the clot that is cutting off blood supply to the brain. However, it can only be administered within a few hours after the start of symptoms. An endovascular procedure can also be initiated to remove the clot from the brain. However, if a hemorrhagic stroke is diagnosed, surgery is usually the preferred treatment method.

Abigail Mckay

Abigail has been a nurse for five years, and throughout her time as a nurse, she has worked in multiple medical-surgical units as well as spent time in the infusion therapy clinic and endoscopy lab. She is passionate about preventative medicine through patient education regarding nutrition and exercise. Due to her passion, Abigail has gone on to earn two certifications including a certification in medical-surgical nursing (CMSRN) and a certification in holistic nursing (HNB-BC), in hopes of being able to better serve her patients. Abigail earned her Bachelor of Science in Nursing from Liberty University in Lynchburg, VA and now bettering patient education in the healthcare system through partnering with American TelePhysicians.

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