Learn more from neurologist Robert D. Brown, Jr. M.D., M.P.H.

I'm Dr. Robert Brown, neurologist at Mayo Clinic. In this video, we'll cover the basics of a stroke. What is it, who it happens to, the symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment. Whether you're looking for answers for yourself or someone you love, we're here to give you the best information available. You've likely heard the term stroke before. They affect about 800,000 people in the United States each year. Strokes happen in two ways. In the first, a blocked artery can cut off blood to an area of the brain. And this is known as an ischemic stroke. 85% of strokes are of this type. The second type of stroke happens when a blood vessel can leak or burst. So the blood spills into the brain tissue or surrounding the brain. And this is called a hemorrhagic stroke. Prompt treatment can reduce brain damage and the likelihood of death or disability. So if you or someone you know is experiencing a stroke, you should call 911 and seek emergency medical care right away.

Anyone can have a stroke, but some things put you at higher risk. And some things can lower your risk. If you're 55 and older, if you're African-American, if you're a man, or if you have a family history of strokes or heart attacks, your chances of having a stroke are higher. Being overweight, physically inactive, drinking alcohol heavily, recreational drug use. Those who smoke, have high blood pressure or high cholesterol, have poorly controlled diabetes, suffer from obstructive sleep apnea, or have certain forms of heart disease are at greater risk as well.

Look for these signs and symptoms if you think you or someone you know is having a stroke: Sudden trouble speaking and understanding what others are saying. Paralysis or numbness of the face, arm or leg on one side of the body. Problems seeing in one or both eyes, trouble walking, and a loss of balance. Now many strokes are not associated with headache, but a sudden and severe headache can sometimes occur with some types of stroke. If you notice any of these, even if they come and go or disappear completely, seek emergency medical attention or call 911. Don't wait to see if symptoms stop, for every minute counts.

Once you get to the hospital, your emergency team will review your symptoms and complete a physical exam. They will use several tests to help them figure out what type of stroke you're having and determine the best treatment for the stroke. This could include a CT scan or MRI scan, which are pictures of the brain and arteries, a carotid ultrasound, which is a soundwave test of the carotid arteries which provide blood flow to the front parts of the brain, and blood tests.

Once your doctors can determine if you're having an ischemic or hemorrhagic stroke, they'll be able to figure out the best treatment. If you're suffering an ischemic stroke, it's important to restore blood flow to your brain as quickly as possible, providing the oxygen and other nutrients your brain cells need to survive. To do this, doctors may use an intravenous clot buster medicine, dissolving the clot that is obstructing the blood flow or they may perform an emergency endovascular procedure. This involves advancing a tiny plastic tube called a catheter up into the brain arteries, allowing the blockage in the artery to be removed directly. Unlike ischemic strokes, the goal for treating a hemorrhagic stroke is to control the bleeding and reduce pressure in the brain. Doctors may use emergency medicines to lower the blood pressure, prevent blood vessel spasms, encourage clotting and prevent seizures. Or, if the bleeding is severe, surgery may be performed to remove the blood that is in the brain.

Every stroke is different, and so every person's road to recovery is different. Management of a stroke often involves a care team with several specialties. This may include a neurologist and a physical medicine and rehabilitation physician, among others. Now, in the end, our goal is to help you recover as much function as possible so that you can live independently. A stroke is a life-changing event that can affect you emotionally as much as it can physically. You may feel helpless, frustrated, or depressed. So look for help and support from friends and family. Accept that recovery will take hard work and most of all time. Strive for a new normal and remember to celebrate your progress. If you'd like to learn even more about strokes, watch our other related videos or visit mayoclinic.org. We wish you all the best.

April 08, 2022