What Are Strokes?

Featured Article, Healthy Heart, Stroke
on August 13, 2011
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Strokes. The word is casually bandied about sometimes in jest and often without a true understanding of what a stroke truly is by definition. But what are strokes, really? Strokes are serious health emergencies affecting the brain. When a stroke happens, it requires immediate medical intervention to stave off brain damage and even death.

The brain is a delicate machine. In order to understand what strokes are, a basic understanding of the brain is helpful. The brain is the center of the nervous system, controls everything you do and tirelessly runs the body, whether you’re asleep or awake. Keeping all parts of the brain healthy requires a constant and consistent flow of blood, oxygen and nutrients. Any disruption in that flow can be catastrophic.

Strokes do not respect boundaries. Anyone, regardless of status or nationality, can suffer from a stroke. According to the World Health Organization, it is estimated that 17 million people from around the world die from cardiovascular disease — in particular strokes and heart attacks — every year. Managing risk factors, living an active life and adopting a healthy diet can help limit the chances of stroke.

What actually happens to the brain during a stroke? A stroke is caused by the interruption or decrease of the blood flow to the brain. This can happen because a blood vessel bursts in the brain. A blood clot can also create a stoppage of the blood supply. The brain tissue begins to break down and die within minutes of the loss of blood supply to the brain.

What does a stroke feel like? Most people report a sensation of weakness, numbness in the face, arm or leg — usually on one side of the body. Additionally, the stroke can cause headache, confusion and trouble understanding or speaking. Visual impairment in one or both eyes can occur and is sudden. Other impairments include difficulty walking, loss of balance and coordination, and even fainting or unconsciousness. The effects of the type of stroke and where in the brain it occurs determine the exact nature of the symptoms. Without prompt emergency care, permanent brain damage and even death can occur.