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SALT LAKE CITY — Because of the increase in stroke-awareness campaigns over the past few years, there is a lot of information about the condition readily available to the public. In fact, there is so much information that many find it all difficult to understand.
What is a stroke?
To explain the condition, let’s start with what a stroke is and how many different types of stroke there are.
A stroke happens when the brain does not get enough blood supply or oxygen to support the tissue. As a result, brain tissue will die — and brain tissue will not replace itself. So when the injury is done, it is done.
There are only two types of strokes. The first is a stroke caused by a blood clot, plaque clot or lack of oxygen to the brain (which stops blood flow to the brain itself). The second type is a bleeding stroke, where blood is in or on the brain because of trauma or a ruptured aneurysm.
If you experience symptoms of a stroke — such as slurred speech, numbness, vision changes or weakness on one side of the body or body parts — you need to seek medical help immediately. Doctors can treat a stroke with medication to reverse the symptoms if they can give blood de-clotting medication within three hours of the first sign of a stroke.
A stroke caused by a blood clot or plaque is treated completely differently than a stroke caused by bleeding. A stroke caused by spontaneous bleeding is very hard to treat, and the majority of patients die or end up with severe physical limitations that cannot be reversed.
When a patient suffers a stroke caused by a clot, medical teams give very aggressive treatment with blood-thinning medication and blood de-clotting medication. But there are limitations to treatment:
- We cannot give the medication if the patient has had recent surgery, has bleeding problems, gastric ulcers, age limits, etc.
- If the clot is not blood-related but rather plaque-related, there is little that can be done.
When a patient suffers a stroke related to bleeding, the only treatment is to administer comfort measures, supporting the patient physically. Sadly, there is not a lot medical teams can do in this situation. Surgery is not usually an option; and if surgery is done, the damage to the brain usually cannot be reversed.
There are several biological and lifestyle factors that put a person at higher risk of suffering a stroke. They include:
- Atrial fibrillation
- High cholesterol
- Family history of stroke
- Race — people of color have a higher rate of stroke than Caucasians
- Age, especially over the age of 55
- Drug and alcohol use
- Use of birth control medication
- Being overweight or obese
While risk factors increase your chance of having a stroke, it can really happen to anyone. Always be mindful that a stroke can happen with little to no warning, and the risk factors you have can change quickly. Stay on top of your medical history and stay healthy.
Suzanne Carlile, "Nurse Suzy," has been a nurse since 1982. Her main focus is critical care and nursing education. She holds a master's degree in nursing, is a Certified Emergency Nurse, and a member of NNSDO Intermountain West Chapter.