Knowing the signs of stroke can save your life

Posted by: Ted Schmidt, Dev Sethi, Matthew Schmidt and Burt Kinerk Stroke is the third leading cause of death in the United States, right behind heart disease and cancer. Knowing the symptoms and signs of a stroke can save your life, the life of a family member, or even the life of a total stranger. There are basically two types of strokes, and it is essential that you understand the signs and symptoms of each type.

Ischemic stroke

The first type of stroke is called an “ischemic stroke". An ischemic stroke happens when a blood clot or piece of plaque lodges in a blood vessel in your brain, and shuts off the blood supply. The blood clots can come from your heart, your legs, or from a recent surgery. The plaque can break off from inside a blood vessel. Once a blood vessel is blocked, the area of the brain served by that vessel loses its blood supply, and brain tissue begins to die. As brain tissue dies, the symptoms of stroke begin to become apparent. Usually symptoms occur suddenly and are most severe within a few minutes after they start.

Common symptoms of an ischemic stroke include paralysis or weakness, which is usually limited to one side of the body. Many times there is weakness or paralysis on one side of the face, in one arm or in one leg. There can be blindness in one eye or loss of peripheral vision, and many times there will be double vision, dizziness and vertigo. Slurred speech and difficulty speaking or understanding words are also common symptoms. Many times there is confusion and loss of coordination.

If you think you are developing any of the symptoms of an ischemic stroke, or if you see anyone who exhibits these symptoms, called 911. It is important to immediately get the victim of an ischemic stroke to an emergency room. There is a treatment called “thrombolytic therapy" that can dissolve the blockage and significantly reduce brain damage. The majority of doctors agree that thrombolytic therapy must be administered within three hours of the onset of stroke symptoms. The failure of a physician to timely administer thrombolytic therapy in a patient with clear signs and symptoms of an ischemic stroke can constitute malpractice.

Hemorrhagic stroke

Hemorrhagic stoke occurs when a blood vessel in the brain ruptures and bleeds into the brain. Many times they are the result of a ruptured aneurysm. An aneurysm is a bulge or ballooning in a weakened area of an artery. Aneurysms are almost always associated with chronic high blood pressure.
Hemorrhagic strokes account for only 10% of all strokes, but have an extremely high death rate. Fortunately, many times there are clear early warning signs that a hemorrhagic stroke is about to occur.
The sudden onset of a severe headache is the most common early warning sign that a catastrophic hemorrhagic stroke is about to occur. The headache is commonly described as "the worst headache of my life". There may be facial or eye pain, double vision or loss of peripheral vision. These warning signs may occur minutes, days, or weeks before the catastrophic rupture occurs. If you experience or observe any of these symptoms, call 911. It is extremely important that any individual exhibiting the symptoms of hemorrhagic stroke obtain immediate emergency medical care. Almost half of the victims of major hemorrhagic stroke die before they ever reach the hospital.

The treatment of hemorrhagic stroke is different than treatment of ischemic stroke. Thrombolytic therapy or blood thinners are not given to treat hemorrhagic strokes, because they can increase the bleeding and brain damage. In fact, prescribing or taking an excessive dose of Coumadin (or other blood thinners) can cause a hemorrhagic stroke. Instead, neurosurgeons perform a fairly routine operation to repair the weakened blood vessel and prevent a catastrophic rupture. Sometimes inexperienced or careless medical providers will miss the clear early warning signs of an impending hemorrhagic stroke, and the patient will suffer catastrophic damage or death.

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