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Healthy Living

Stroke Information Page from the
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke

What is Stroke?
Is there any treatment?
What is the prognosis?
What research is being done?
Organizations
Related NINDS Publications and Information
Additional resources from MEDLINEplus


What is Stroke?

Recognizing Stroke

A stroke occurs when the blood supply to the part of the brain is suddenly interrupted (ischemic) or when a blood vessel in the brain bursts, spilling blood into the spaces surrounding the brain cells (hemorrhagic). The symptoms of stroke are easy to spot: sudden numbness or weakness, especially on one side of the body; sudden confusion or trouble speaking or understanding speech; sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes; sudden trouble walking; dizziness; or loss of balance or coordination. Brain cells die when they no longer receive oxygen and nutrients from the blood or when they are damaged by sudden bleeding into or around the brain. These damaged cells can linger in a compromised state for several hours. With timely treatment, these cells can be saved. Stroke is diagnosed through several techniques: a short neurological examination, blood tests, CT scans, MRI scans, Doppler ultrasound, and arteriography. Stroke seems to run in some families. Family members may have a genetic tendency for stroke or share a lifestyle that contributes to stroke. The most important risk factors for stroke are hypertension, heart disease, diabetes, and cigarette smoking. Other risks include heavy alcohol consumption, high blood cholesterol levels, illicit drug use, and genetic or congenital conditions. Some risk factors for stroke apply only to women. Primary among these are pregnancy, childbirth, and menopause.

Is there any treatment?

Generally, there are three treatment stages for stroke: prevention, therapy immediately after stroke, and post-stroke rehabilitation. Therapies to prevent stroke are based on treating an individual's underlying risk factors. Acute stroke therapies try to stop a stroke while it is happening. Post-stroke rehabilitation is to overcome disabilities that result from stroke damage. Medication or drug therapy is the most common treatment for stroke. Surgery can be used to prevent stroke, to treat acute stroke, or to repair vascular damage or malformations in and around the brain. For most stroke patients, physical therapy is the cornerstone of the rehabilitation process. Another type of therapy involving relearning daily activities is occupational therapy (OT). OT also involves exercise and training to help the stroke patient relearn everyday activities such as eating, drinking and swallowing, dressing, bathing, cooking, reading and writing, and toileting. Speech therapy is appropriate for patients who have no deficits in cognition or thinking, but have problems understanding speech or written words, or problems forming speech.

What is the prognosis?

Stroke

Although stroke is a disease of the brain, it can affect the entire body. Some of the disabilities that can result from stroke include paralysis, cognitive deficits, speech problems, emotional difficulties, daily living problems, and pain.

What research is being done?

Some brain damage that results from stroke may be secondary to the initial death of brain cells caused by the lack of blood flow to the brain tissue. This brain damage is a result of a toxic reaction to the primary damage. Researchers are studying the mechanisms of this toxic reaction and ways to prevent this secondary injury to the brain. Scientists hope to develop neuroprotective agents to prevent this damage. Another area of research involves experiments with vasodilators, medication that expand or dilate blood vessels and thus increase the blood flow to the brain. Basic research has also focused on the genetics of stroke and stroke risk factors. One area of research involving genetics is gene therapy. One promising area of stroke animal research involves hibernation. The dramatic decrease of blood flow to the brain in hibernating animals is extensive enough t that it would kill a non-hibernating animal. If scientists can discover how animals hibernate without experiences brain damage, then maybe they can discover ways to stop the brain damage associated with decreased blood flow in stroke patients. Other studies are looking at the role of hypothermia, or decreased body temperature, on metabolism and neuroprotection. Scientists are working to develop new and better ways to help the brain repair itself and restore important functions to the stroke patients. Some evidence suggests that transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), in which a small magnetic current is delivered to an area of the brain, may possibly increase brain plasticity and speed up recover of function after stroke.

Organizations

American Stroke Association: A Division of the American Heart Association
7272 Greenville Avenue
Dallas, TX
75231-4596
strokeassociation@heart.org
http://www.strokeassociation.org
Tel: 1-888-4STROKE (478-7653)
Fax: 214-706-5231

Brain Aneurysm Foundation
295 Cambridge Street
Old Forge Realty Bldg.
Boston, MA
02114
www.bafound.org
Tel: 617-723-3870
Fax: 617-723-8672

National Stroke Association
9707 East Easter Lane
Englewood, CO
80112-3747
info@stroke.org
http://www.stroke.org
Tel: 303-649-9299
800-STROKES (787-6537)
Fax: 303-649-1328

Stroke Clubs International
805 12th Street
Galveston, TX
77550
strokeclub@aol.com
Tel: 409-762-1022

National Aphasia Association
29 John Street
Suite 1103
New York, NY
10038
naa@aphasia.org
http://www.aphasia.org
Tel: 212-267-2814
800-922-4NAA (4622)
Fax: 212-267-2812

Children's Hemiplegia and Stroke Assocn. (CHASA)
4101 West Green Oaks Blvd.
PMB #149
Arlington, TX
76016
info@chasa.org
http://www.hemikids.org
Tel: 817-492-4325

Related NINDS Publications and Information


NINDS health-related material is provided for information purposes only and does not necessarily represent endorsement by or an official position of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke or any other Federal agency. Advice on the treatment or care of an individual patient should be obtained through consultation with a physician who has examined that patient or is familiar with that patient's medical history.

All NINDS-prepared information is in the public domain and may be freely copied. Credit to the NINDS or the NIH is appreciated.


Provided by:
The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke
National Institutes of Health
Bethesda, MD 20892

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