A stroke is a condition where the brain does not get the blood supply it needs to function normally. It can affect anyone at any age, and does not discriminate. However, there are certain factors that may increase the risk of developing a stroke.
A stroke is termed a 'cerebrovascular accident' or 'CVA' in medical practice. In simple terms, it is a brain attack.
Smoking is a well recognized risk factor. Those who smoke are at a greater risk of developing a stroke along with heart disease. Individuals with high blood pressure and diabetes are also at a higher risk of developing a stroke.
Those who have a family history of stroke are also at an increased risk. High lipid levels in the blood stream can lead to the formation of atherosclerotic plaques in the large blood vessels that supply the brain, reducing the blood supply over time.
In order to make it simple, various authoritative bodies have now come up with the word 'FAST' to identify a stroke early.
F stands for facial drooping. One of the earliest signs of a stroke is drooping of one side of the face. This is often noted by the family members or when the patient looks in the mirror.
A stands for arm weakness. However, weakness can involve the lower limbs as well. The individual may not be able to hold a pen or a glass of water. They may find that they drag one foot when walking.
S stands for slurred speech. Those who are suffering from a stroke will find it difficult pronounce certain words and phrases. One such phrase that is used in clinical practice is 'west minister street'. Some patients may find it difficult to understand what someone else is saying as well.
T stands for time to call for help. If a person is starting to show signs of a stroke, it is time to call the doctor or go to the hospital.
The history of weakness and clinical examination is usually enough to make a provisional diagnosis. However, certain investigations can aid a diagnosis of stroke.
A CT scan of the brain can demonstrate the presence of blood, but can be negative in the very early stages if there is a clot causing the stroke. An MRI scan is better to detect clots.
A scan of the arteries of the neck i.e. a carotid Doppler is of immense benefit, especially if there is presence of disease in it.
An echocardiogram may be useful as well. An electrocardiogram will be done to determine the type of heart rhythm
The treatment of a stroke involves medical therapy in the form of blood thinners that are combined with a physiotherapy program. It can take a few months before complete recovery is seen. However, not everyone recovers fully.
If identified early, clot busting treatments are now available that can restore normal blood flow to the brain and prevent permanent damage. This is administered only if the patient arrives very early to the hospital.
It is for this very reason that it is important to act FAST.
For more articles on health and heart disease for patients, visit Dr Vivek Baliga's profile on HeartSense here - http://heartsense.in/author/dr-vivek-baliga-b/