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Cerebrovascular accident (CVA) is the medical term for a stroke. A stroke is when blood flow to a part of your brain is stopped either by a blockage or the rupture of a blood vessel. There are important signs of a stroke that you should be aware of and watch out for.
Seek medical attention immediately if you think that you or someone around you might be having a stroke. The more quickly you receive treatment, the better the prognosis, as a stroke left untreated for too long can result in permanent brain damage.
There are two main types of cerebrovascular accident, or stroke: an ischemic stroke is caused by a blockage; a hemorrhagic stroke is caused by the rupture of a blood vessel. Both types of stroke deprive part of the brain of blood and oxygen, causing brain cells to die.
An ischemic stroke is the most common and occurs when a blood clot blocks a blood vessel and prevents blood and oxygen from getting to a part of the brain. There are two ways that this can happen. One way is an embolic stroke, which occurs when a clot forms somewhere else in your body and gets lodged in a blood vessel in the brain. The other way is a thrombotic stroke, which is when the clot forms in a blood vessel within the brain.
A hemorrhagic stroke occurs when a blood vessel ruptures, or hemorrhages, and then prevents blood from getting to part of the brain. The hemorrhage may occur in any blood vessel in the brain, or it may occur in the membrane surrounding the brain.
The quicker you can get a diagnosis and treatment for a stroke, the better your prognosis will be. For this reason, it’s important to understand and recognize the symptoms of a stroke.
Stroke symptoms include:
The symptoms of a stroke can vary depending on the individual and where in the brain it has happened. Symptoms usually appear suddenly, even if they’re not very severe, and they may become worse over time.
Remembering the acronym "FAST" helps people recognize the most common symptoms of stroke:
Healthcare providers have a number of tools to determine whether you’ve had a stroke. Your healthcare provider will administer a full physical examination, during which they’ll check your strength, reflexes, vision, speech, and senses. They’ll also check for a particular sound in the blood vessels of your neck. This sound, which is called a bruit, indicates abnormal blood flow. Finally, they will check your blood pressure, which may be high if you’ve had a stroke.
Your doctor may also perform diagnostic tests to discover the cause of the stroke and pinpoint its location. These tests may include one or more of the following:
Treatment for stroke depends on the type of stroke you’ve had. The goal of treatment for ischemic stroke, for instance, is to remove the blockage. Treatments for hemorrhagic stroke are aimed at controlling the bleeding.
To treat an ischemic stroke, you may be given a clot-dissolving drug or a blood thinner. You may also be given aspirin to prevent a second stroke. Emergency treatment for this type of stroke may include injecting medicine into the brain or removing a blockage with surgery.
For a hemorrhagic stroke, you may be given a drug that lowers the pressure in your brain caused by the bleeding. If the bleeding is severe, you may need surgery to remove excess blood. It’s also possible that you will need surgery to repair the ruptured blood vessel.
There’s a recovery period after having any kind of stroke, the length of which varies depending on how severe the stroke was. You may need to participate in rehabilitation because of the stroke’s effects on your health, particularly any disabilities it may cause. This can include speech therapy or occupational therapy, or work with a psychiatrist, neurologist, or other healthcare professional.
Your long-term outlook after a stroke depends on a few factors:
The long-term outlook after an ischemic stroke is better than after a hemorrhagic stroke.
Common complications resulting from a stroke include difficulty speaking, swallowing, moving, or thinking. These can improve over the weeks, months, and even years after a stroke.
Correspondingly, there are many measures you can take to help prevent stroke. Preventive measures for stroke are similar to the actions that you would take to help prevent heart disease. Here are a few ways to reduce your risk:
Your healthcare provider may prescribe medications for preventing stroke if they know you’re at risk. Possible preventive medications for stroke include drugs that thin the blood and prevent clot formation.
Written by: Mary Ellen Ellis
Medically reviewed on: Sep 06, 2016: Judith Marcin, MD
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