When blood supply to the heart is reduced or blocked, it results in a heart attack. Most organs in our body depend on blood circulation to provide timely nutrients and oxygen, while simultaneously carrying away metabolic wastes. What happens when that organ is your brain? What are the causes of a ‘brain attack’ or stroke?

Stroke and its causes

A stroke occurs when the blood supply to a part of the brain is impaired, or cut-off. There are two ways in which this can happen – either a clot blocks the patency of the artery supplying the region, i.e. Ischemic stroke, or the vessel bleeds into the brain, i.e. Hemorrhagic stroke due to various possible causes.

Different scenarios can lead to the development of a stroke. A non-exhaustive list is given here:

Causes of Ischemic Stroke:

  • Old age
  • Hypertension
  • Diabetes
  • Heart disease such as atrial fibrillation, valvular heart disease, certain congenital heart diseases
  • Hypercholesterolemia
  • Excess intake of alcohol, smoking and other illicit drugs
  • Obesity
  • Use of Oral Contraceptive Pills
  • Various autoimmune disease, like Protein C, Protein S Deficiencies, Antiphospholipid antibodies

Hemorrhagic strokes can occur due to the following reasons:

  • Hypertension
  • Anticoagulant therapy
  • Arteriovenous malformations in the brain
  • Vasculitis, i.e., generalized inflammation of blood vessels
  • Brain Tumors

What are the symptoms of a stroke?

The brain is the most complex organ in the body. The result of decreased blood supply can be enormously variable, depending on the site involved. Unlike other organ damage, this can result in a a variety of presentations, including:

  • Paralysis of one side of the body
  • Vision problems
  • Sudden, severe headache
  • Memory loss
  • Seizures
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Loss of speech
  • Paralysis of one half of the face
  • Imbalance
  • Loss of sensation over one half of the body
  • Difficulty in swallowing
  • Loss of understanding of speech
  • Behavioral problems

How do you recognize if you’re having a stroke?

The American Stroke Association recommends the use of a mnemonic ‘FAST’, to help remember the main symptoms of a stroke. In the event of the following, immediately call an ambulance and seek emergency care:

  • Face Dropping: Does one side of the face feel numb or ‘fall’? Is there an asymmetry on smiling, bearing your teeth?
  • Arm weakness: Is there weakness in one arm? On lifting both upwards, does one side drift downwards?
  • Speech Difficulty: Is there any difficulty in speaking, understanding spoken language, or in repeating a simple sentence?
  • Time to call 911: Or your local emergency provider – If any of the above three symptoms are present, even if transiently. The point of time should be noted, as it plays a crucial role in deciding the type of treatment to be administered. Do not delay any further.

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