A stroke describes a condition of lack of blood flow within the brain. Strokes can be either ischemic, meaning a blockage restricts blood flow to a part of the brain or hemorrhagic, meaning a ruptured blood vessel causes blood to leak into the brain tissue.
The most important risk factor for stroke is high blood pressure. Other risk factors include: atrial fibrillation, diabetes, family history of stroke, high cholesterol, increasing age and African-American race. In addition, strokes occur more often in people who have circulation problems, obesity, alcohol abuse, tobacco use, cocaine or other drug abuse.
Patients with stroke can present with mild to severe symptoms, depending on the size, location and type of stroke they have experienced. Symptoms include: confusion, slurred speech, weakness, headache, changes in any of the senses, balance difficulties, loss of bowel or bladder control, or personality changes.
A stroke can be diagnosed with a CT scan and sometimes by an MRI. Patients with a stroke will also require other testing to identify the cause of the event. Treatment of a stroke depends on the type and location. For example, if the stroke was caused by a blood clot, clot dissolving medications can be used in the first few hours to relieve the blockage. If there is a blockage of one of the large vessels of the brain, it can be directly removed.
The prognosis for patients after a stroke also depends on the size, location and type of stroke. Patients often require extensive rehabilitation to regain the function they lost.