What causes a stroke? This is just one of the questions National Stroke Awareness Month hopes to answer. The goal is also to spread awareness about the signs and symptoms, especially to younger people. Heart disease is still the leading cause of death among men and women, according to the National Stroke Association. It is a type of heart disease that affects the arteries leading to and inside your brain.
According to the National Stroke Association, the number of people under age 45 who were hospitalized for a stroke increased by more than 40 percent over the past decade. And 73 percent of younger Americans are not familiar with their symptoms and causes. Many people are also unsure of how serious they can be and how quickly you should seek medical attention.
The American Heart Association reports there are about 795,000 cases per year, and approximately 140,000 of them are fatal. The key to preventing a stroke is understanding how you can reduce the risk.
Let’s take a look at the signs, symptoms, and causes.
Strokes Can Occur Without Warning
As we saw with the shocking death of Beverly Hills 90210 star Luke Perry, strokes can happen at any time. If a blood vessel carrying oxygen and nutrients to your brain is either blocked (ischemic) or ruptures (hemorrhagic), a stroke will occur. They’re different from heart attacks because blood to the brain is being cut off versus blood to the heart.
Time is critical. They say “time is brain.” The longer a stroke persists, the greater the risk of brain damage. A good way to remind yourself of the symptoms is by keeping an acronym in mind: “BEFAST.”
Balance: Loss of balance
Eyes: Blurred vision
Face: A drooping face
Arm: Does one arm drift downward?
Speech: If speech is slurred or strange, call for help
Time: Don’t waste time, call 911 immediately
The longer you wait to get treatment the more damage will be done to your brain. Time is brain.
Stroke Risk Factors
One of the biggest risk factors for stroke is high blood pressure. Smoking is another. Physical inactivity, obesity and high blood cholesterol also contribute to your risk.
Types of Strokes
Developing an understanding of the different types also helps to explain what causes them.
One of the most common types of stroke is ischemic. It accounts for more than 80 percent of all instances. It is caused by fatty deposits (known as clots) blocking an artery in your brain.
These fatty deposits can cause either a cerebral thrombosis or cerebral embolism. Thrombosis refers to a blood clot that develops at the clogged part of the vessel. An embolism develops in another part of your body, like the heart or neck. It will cause a stroke when a piece of the clot breaks loose. The piece enters your bloodstream and ends up in one of your blood vessels. If the blood vessel in your brain is too small to let it pass, the blood supply is cut off.
An irregular heartbeat can also cause an embolism. Atrial fibrillation causes clots to form in the heart, dislodge and travel to the brain.
The second-most common type of stroke is a hemorrhagic stroke. When a weakened blood vessel ruptures it causes bleeding in the brain, typically in the form of an aneurysm. If left untreated, the aneurysm continues to weaken until it ruptures and bleeds into your brain.
An arteriovenous malformation (AVM), which is abnormally formed blood vessels, can also occur. Any of these vessels can rupture, which also causes bleeding.
When either an aneurysm or AVM occurs, blood accumulates and compresses your surrounding brain tissue. A CT scan or an MRI can diagnose if you’ve had a stroke. It will also classify what type of stroke occurred.
Preventing stroke is easier said than done. But by taking many of the same precautions you take to reduce your risk for heart disease, you will be cutting your stroke risk, too. The arteries that supply blood to your brain uses your heart to get it there. To learn more, download our guide “Heart Disease Facts That Could Change Your Life.”