A Stroke is a cerebrovascular disease that results in permanent neurological damage. Most strokes develop from ischemia.

What Is a Stroke

A stroke is a cerebrovascular injury that causes a sudden alteration in brain function and develops due to an interruption of normal blood flow to the brain due to rupture or obstruction (thrombosis) of one of the arteries that supply it. Because of this sudden rupture or occlusion, the neurons, suddenly deprived of oxygen and all the other substances that keep them alive, die.

In 75% of cases, strokes affect individuals over 65 years old, while the remaining cases involve younger people, even those younger than 40. 

There are two types of stroke: hemorrhagic stroke, which occurs as a result of the rupture of an artery, and ischemic stroke (ischemia), which is caused by a thrombus, that is, a blood clot that obstructs the artery, impairing normal blood flow.

The Causes of Stroke: Ischemia and Hemorrhage

Most strokes (about 80 percent) develop from ischemia. The underlying blood clot is often caused by atherosclerosis, which is the accumulation of fat, fibrotic material, and cells on the inner walls of arteries. In this case, arteries are thickened, resulting in decreased blood flow. 

Atherosclerosis might cause the formation of a thrombus (i.e., a blood clot), blocking blood flow to a specific area of the brain and, therefore, the nutritional supply to the neurons. 

Ischemia can also be caused by an embolus, i.e., a blood clot that enters the bloodstream from the heart or other areas of the body. Once it arrives at a cerebral artery smaller than its size, this blood clot causes an occlusion, and the blood supply is halted.

Ischemic stroke mainly affects older patients, and its risk factors include diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol, and high blood sugar levels

Hemorrhagic Stroke: Watch Out for High Blood Pressure

Hemorrhagic strokes, on the other hand, develop due to the rupture of a blood vessel whose walls may be weakened and result in blood spilling into the surrounding tissue, thereby causing compression of brain tissue. 

Cerebral vessels can rupture due to an aneurysm, thus a dilatation of the vessel walls caused by alterations or trauma or by arteriovenous malformations, i.e., congenital abnormalities whereby arteries feed directly into the outflow veins without the capillary beds that reduce blood pressure. Pressure, therefore, results higher in this circuit and can cause bleeding. 

Hemorrhagic stroke affects 15% of stroke patients, but it is the most severe form. Its risk factors include high blood pressure, which also affects young patients, as well as alterations in blood clotting, for example, following treatment with anticoagulant drugs. In any case, to prevent both ischemic and hemorrhagic stroke, it is essential to:

  • Have a balanced and active lifestyle associated with regular physical activity;
  • Avoid smoking;
  • Follow a healthy diet that is low in animal fats, salt, and alcohol and rich in vegetables, legumes, and fruits. 

Stroke: What Symptoms Should Not Be Underestimated

There are certain signs that, if recognized in time, can help the patient or those close to a person affected by stroke to seek help promptly. Indeed, the manifestations that indicate the onset of stroke tend to be recognizable because they are conditions that deviate from the norm—for example, sudden difficulty in movement or persistent tingling in the limbs unrelated to other causes. 

Other symptoms are related to vision or speech: those with a stroke often struggle to speak and remember individual terms. Lastly, another alarm bell is a very intense, sudden headache that differs from what one is used to experiencing. 

What to Do in the Event of a Stroke: The Importance of Early Intervention

When a stroke occurs, it is crucial to act immediately. First, you must call for emergency help so that the person manifesting a stroke is visited in an emergency room equipped with the Stroke Emergency Unit as soon as possible. Treating a stroke requires a multidisciplinary team of specialists capable of treating the emergency. Stroke Units are crucial to reducing the disability and mortality incidence of stroke patients, regardless of the intensity of the manifestation and the patient’s age. 

What should be avoided at all costs in case of a suspected stroke? First, one should not waste time calling their physician; they may not be able to intervene, and this would only be an intermediate step before alerting the health emergency center.

Waiting for symptoms to pass should also be avoided: if you suspect a stroke, immediate hospital intervention is needed. When a stroke occurs, it is necessary to intervene within 6 hours to be sure that treatments will be effective and not, on the contrary, counterproductive. In addition, the sooner action is taken, the sooner the progress of the stroke is halted, and the fewer areas of the patient’s brain will be compromised.