What is a Stroke?
What is a Stroke?
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Newsfeed display by CaRP What is a Stroke?

A stroke, or “brain attack,” occurs when a blood clot blocks a blood vessel or artery in the brain (ischemic stroke), or when a blood vessel in the brain breaks or ruptures (hemorrhagic stroke). When a stroke occurs, brain cells die in the immediate area. These cells usually die within minutes to a few hours after the stroke starts.

The words stroke, brain attack, and cerebrovascular disease are used interchangeably throughout literature. They refer to abnormalities of the brain resulting from diseases of its blood vessels. Stroke is the most commonly diagnosed, but not the only, form of cerebrovascular disease. The term cardiovascular disease is frequently used to encompass heart disease, stroke, heart failure-disorders of the circulatory system.

An ischemic stroke can occur when a blood clot forms somewhere in the body and travels through the bloodstream to the brain. In the brain, the clot can lodge in a vessel too small for it, blocking the flow of blood to a specific area of the brain. Blood clot strokes can also happen as the result of a buildup of fatty deposits and cholesterol on the artery walls leading to or in the brain, a process called atherosclerosis. This process is identical to atherosclerosis in the coronary arteries that feed the heart, and can be prevented through a healthy, low-fat/high fiber diet, increased physical activity, and no tobacco use. Approximately 83% of all strokes are ischemic.

A hemorrhagic stroke is caused by the breakage or rupture of a blood vessel in the brain. Hemorrhages can be caused by a number of disorders that affect the blood vessels, including long-standing high blood pressure and cerebral aneurysms. An aneurysm is a weak or thin spot on a blood vessel wall. These weak spots are usually present at birth. Aneurysms develop over a number of years and usually do not cause detectable problems until they break. Approximately 17% of all strokes are hemorrhagic.

When brain cells die, the individual suffers a loss of body function controlled by the stroke-affected areas of the brain. This includes functions such as speech, movement, and memory. The specific abilities lost or affected depend on where in the brain the stroke occurs and on the size of the stroke (the extent of brain cell death). Some people recover completely from less serious strokes, while other individuals lose their lives to very severe strokes.

In 2002, a total of 8,442 Pennsylvanians died from ischemic and hemorrhagic strokes, representing 17.0% of all deaths. Yet, the vast majority of strokes are preventable, through behaviors with respect to diet, physical activity, and tobacco use.

Transient ischemic attacks (TIAs) are viewed as mini-strokes, and are brief conditions where blood is temporarily cut off from reaching the brain, often by an atherosclerotic condition. A TIA mimics many of a stroke’s symptoms, such as numbness, muscle weakness, and speech and language difficulties, but the symptoms usually last about an hour, or may persist up to 24 hours. About one third of those with a history of TIAs will suffer an acute stroke.

In 2002, 49,567 Pennsylvanians died from some form of cardiovascular disease, including high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, and other conditions. That represented 136 Pennsylvania deaths per day or a death every nine minutes. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), cardiovascular disease was estimated to cost Pennsylvania an estimated $15.5 billion in 2003, including health care costs and lost productivity. For both men and women in Pennsylvania and in the nation, heart disease remains the leading cause of death, and stroke is the third leading cause of death, and a leading cause of adult disability.

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Submitted: 06/07/06

Description: A stroke, or “brain attack,” occurs when a blood clot blocks a blood vessel or artery in the brain (ischemic stroke), or when a blood vessel in the brain breaks or ruptures (hemorrhagic stroke). When a stroke occurs, brain cells die in the immediate area. These cells usually die within minutes to a few hours after the stroke starts.

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