Mommy Medicine: Understanding a stroke

Mommy Medicine: Understanding a stroke

By Suzanne Carlile, Contributor | Posted - Nov. 19, 2012 at 8:49 p.m.

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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.

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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:

  1. We cannot give the medication if the patient has had recent surgery, has bleeding problems, gastric ulcers, age limits, etc.
  2. 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.

Risk factors

There are several biological and lifestyle factors that put a person at higher risk of suffering a stroke. They include:

  • Atrial fibrillation
  • Diabetes
  • 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
  • Smoking
  • 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.

About the Author: Suzanne Carlile ---------------------------------

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.

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