Knowing the difference between having a stroke and suffering a heart attack could save your life. Stroke is the 5th most significant cause of death in the U.S., and there are almost 7 million survivors of this preventable disease. If you can recognize the signs early enough, you stand a better chance of getting medical emergency help and recovering.
Up to 80 percent of strokes can be prevented.1
What is a stroke?
Also known as a brain attack, a stroke is a critical and sudden event that occurs in the blood vessels of the brain. A stroke can happen in different parts of the brain. During a stroke, the blood supply is usually blocked from reaching the brain, starving it of oxygen and damaging brain cells. The effects of a stroke depend on the severity and the area of the brain affected.
Types of Stroke
Strokes are either caused by a blockage of an artery or a rupture of a blood vessel leading to the brain. The type of stroke will determine the course of treatment.
These are the 3 most common types of strokes:
1. Ischemic stroke
High blood pressure is a chief factor in an Ischemic stroke. It is caused by a blockage or clot resulting from plaque buildup in the arteries feeding the brain. About 87% of all strokes are ischemic.
Ischemic stroke can occur in two ways:
Embolic stroke: caused by a blood clot or plaque fragment that enters the brain via the heart.
Thrombotic stroke: caused by a blood clot inside one of the arteries feeding the brain. High cholesterol levels and atherosclerosis are chief factors in this type of stroke.
2. Transient ischemic attack (TIA)
It’s not uncommon to suffer a mini-stroke called a transient ischemic attack or TIA long before a real, major cardiac event. TIA is a brief blockage of an artery in the brain that lasts from a few minutes to less than an hour. A mini-stroke is an important wake-up call and a medical emergency.
3. Hemorrhagic stroke
Also known as a brain aneurysm, this type of stroke accounts for a 40% risk of death, but only 15% of all strokes. High blood pressure is a chief factor in hemorrhagic stroke, as over time it can weaken the arteries causing them to rupture.
During a hemorrhagic stroke:
Blood leaks from the burst artery into the surrounding brain tissues
Swelling and pressure builds, damaging brain cells
Blood flow to the brain is cut off, starving it of oxygen
Two types of hemorrhagic stroke:
Intracerebral hemorrhaging occurs inside the tissues of the brain.
Subarachnoid hemorrhaging occurs in the space between the brain and the tissue covering the brain.
The main difference between having a stroke and suffering a heart attack is that one affects the brain and the other impacts the heart. The symptoms are also quite different.
What are the symptoms of a stroke?
To help you recognize the symptoms of a stroke so you can act quickly and immediately, remember the F.A.S.T. and hard rule from the American Stroke Association:2
Face drooping – affects one side of the face and can be numb
Arm weakness – weakness and numbness in one arm
Speech difficulty – speech may be slurred, accompanied by confusion
Time to call 9-1-1 – act immediately and don’t delay
There are some other less common symptoms of stroke you also need to know:
Numbness – that affects one side of the body
Vision problems – affecting one or both eyes
Difficulty walking – dizziness, balance, and coordination problems
Severe headache – that comes on suddenly
What is the treatment for a stroke?
The first few hours after a stroke is critical to your recovery. After your condition is stabilized, you will require a brain scan for an accurate diagnosis.3 Depending on the type of stroke, as well as the severity and damage done, your medical team will work quickly to prevent any further brain damage by either administering medication to break up the clot or performing surgery. Your progress will be monitored very closely over the next few days while you remain in hospital.
What are the risk factors of a stroke?
Lifestyle risk factors
Unhealthy diet and poor nutrition – eating a high trans fat diet lacking in fresh fruits and vegetables will lead to high cholesterol and blocked arteries.
Lack of physical activity – like every other muscle in your body, your heart muscle needs to exercise every day to stay fit.
Stress – known to raise blood pressure and can lead to hypertension.
Tobacco use and smoking – one of the top leading causes of heart disease.
Alcohol abuse – drinking raises your blood pressure and can cause hypertension.
Uncontrollable risk factors
Age – your risk of stroke increases with age.
Gender – menopausal women have an increased chance of stroke.
Heritage – African-Americans and South Asians have a greater risk of stroke.
Family history – strokes can sometimes be caused by genetic disorders.
Previous stroke – if you’ve had a TIA or earlier cardiac event, you’re at greater risk.
Congenital heart disease – certain heart conditions can elevate your risk.
Medical risk factors
High blood pressure – puts tremendous strain on your blood vessels and heart. It is the leading cause of stroke.
High cholesterol – can lead to fatty deposits and plaque buildup along the artery walls.
Diabetes – often accompanied by high cholesterol and hypertension.
Atherosclerosis – or hardening of the arteries restricts blood flow.
Atrial fibrillation (AFib) – or arrhythmia can cause blood clots. More common in people aged 65 years and older.
How can you lower your risk of having a stroke?
Although stroke symptoms are different than heart attack symptoms, the steps to lower the risk of stroke are similar:
Eat a heart-healthy diet
Maintain a healthy weight
Knowing what to do in the event of a stroke could save a life. Understanding how strokes happen and how to prevent them will encourage you to get heart smart! A heart-healthy lifestyle is the best way to prevent a stroke.