Chances are that you have known someone who has experienced a stroke, or perhaps even experienced this event yourself. People often view heart attacks and strokes as two of the major risks factors that the elderly face, and they are right. The fear of strokes and heart attacks in the popular imagination probably results from the fact that each condition effects one of the most important parts of the body – a heart attack effects the heart and a stroke effects the brain. At various times and by various cultures, each – the heart and the brain – has been seen as the most important part of the body. And medical science has proven true that each organ is vital to functioning, with the heart controlling the blood and the brain controlling the consciousness.
Though we have all heard of strokes, probably have a friend or relative who has experienced one, and know that this event has to do with the brain, we may not know exactly how a stroke works. Basically, a stroke occurs when a disturbance occurs in the blood supply to the brain. This disturbance – such as that caused by an embolic stroke – causes a chain reaction. A part of the brain is affected, which leads to the inability of the stroke sufferer to move his or her limbs on one side of the body, the inability to understand or formulate speech, or perhaps see one side of the visual field.
There are several types of stroke, include ischemic, thrombotic, and embolic. While they are far from the most common type of strokes, embolic strokes are one of the scariest types of strokes. The phrase embolic stroke comes from “embolus” which is a blood clot that forms somewhere in the body, travels through the bloodstream, and eventually reaches the brain. (Thrombotic strokes occur when the clot actually forms in the brain, and ischemic strokes occurs when a blood vessel becomes so narrows that it is nearly blocked, depriving the important cells of the brain of oxygen and nutrients.)
Embolic strokes are scary because they are often the result of problems with the heart, and if a patient is suffering from heart and brain problems, then he or she is likely in a bad way. Embolic strokes are often the result of heart disease or the complications that occur after heart surgery. They can occur rapidly and without any warning signs, making them a deadly and silent killer. Doctors can predict a likelihood of embolic stroke because about 15% of these types of strokes seem to occur in people who suffer from atrial fibrillation. Atrial fibrillation is a type of abnormal heart rhythm that occurs when the upper chambers of the heart do not beat properly.
So aside from atrial fibrillation, what are the other risk factors for stroke? As mentioned before, old age puts people at greater risk for stroke – embolic stroke or otherwise. High blood pressure, a history of heart attacks and cancer can also put people at greater risk for stroke. If you suffer from diabetes and high cholesterol you should known the signs of stroke. And, if you are in one of these high risk groups, you should avoid cigarette smoking at all costs. Stopping smoking and bringing your blood pressure down to normal levels are two of the best steps you can take in order to lower your risk of stroke.
If you are in one of the groups that could potentially suffer stroke, you should be under the care of a doctor. If you are concerned about stroke risk, be sure to bring up that concern at your next doctor’s appointment. Your physician can help give you peace of mind or a course of treatment that will help you maintain your good health and avoid a stroke. Remember, stroke is the second leading cause of death worldwide, and may soon became the leading cause, so every ounce of prevention counts!
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