Stroke Causes, Symptoms & Treatments

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A stroke is a life-threatening event that occurs either when a blood clot breaks and subsequently blocks an artery or blood vessel, or when blood hemorrhages into the brain due to leakage from a damaged artery. Brain cells die and brain damage occurs.

The brain damage causes loss of abilities such as speech, movement and/or memory. Some patients suffer permanent paralysis, become comatose or even die. Which type and the severity of the loss depend on which area of the brain is damaged and to what extent.

The difference between a stroke and heart attack is that in a heart attack, a blood clot blocks an artery that carries blood to the heart, not the brain.


Your risk of having a stroke depends on controllable and uncontrollable factors.

Controllable risk factors are those that can be modified by living a healthy lifestyle to help prevent a stroke. They include high blood pressure, atrial fibrillation, high cholesterol, diabetes, tobacco use, smoking, alcohol use and obesity. The National Stroke Association notes that up to 80% of strokes are preventable.

Uncontrollable risk factors include age, gender, race, family history, previous stroke, fibromuscular dysplasia, and a hole in the heart.

Warning Signs: Differences between Men and Women

Both men and women typically report sudden:

  • Numbness, weakness or paralysis of face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body.
  • Confusion; trouble speaking or understanding.
  • Trouble seeing in one or both eyes.
  • Trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination.
  • Severe headache with no known cause.

Women may also report sudden:

  • Chest pain.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • Disorientation or changes in consciousness.
  • Face and limb pain.
  • Hiccups.
  • Nausea.
  • General weakness.
  • Palpitations.


Initial treatment depends on whether the stroke is ischemic or hemorrhagic.

Ischemic: The patient's given: a clot-dissolving medication (t-PA) if diagnosed within 3 hours of the symptoms' inception; aspirin or aspirin combined with another antiplatelet medicine unless already treated with t-PA within the past 24 hours; possibly other medicines to control blood sugar levels, fever and seizures.

Hemorrhagic: Measure include: controlling the bleeding; reducing pressure in the brain; stabilizing vital signs; medications to control blood pressure, brain swelling, blood sugar levels, fever and seizures.

For more information visit the National Stroke Association or go to's Heart Health page.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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