Understanding Stroke: causes, symptoms, diagnosis, and prevention.

A stroke occurs when the vessels that carry blood to the brain clog or rupture, causing paralysis of the brain area where blood circulation has stopped. It is a disease more common in men and is a major cause of death, disability, and hospitalizations worldwide.

It is essential to be aware of signs and symptoms and seek immediate medical attention; the faster the stroke diagnosis and treatment, the higher the chances of complete recovery.

There are two types of strokes, which occur for different reasons:

  • Hemorrhagic stroke

  • Ischemic stroke

What are the symptoms, and how does a stroke begin?

Some signs help to recognize a stroke. The main warning signs for any type of stroke are:

  • Weakness or tingling in the face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body;

  • Mental confusion;

  • Speech or comprehension alteration;

  • Change in vision (in one or both eyes);

  • Alteration of balance, coordination, dizziness or alteration in walking;

  • Sudden, severe headache with no apparent cause.

IMPORTANT: If any of these symptoms appear, it is essential to call the Emergency Medical Services (911) or immediately take the person to a hospital for detailed clinical evaluation.

What is an ischemic stroke

Ischemic stroke occurs when there is an artery obstruction, preventing the passage of oxygen to brain cells, which end up dying. This obstruction can happen due to a thrombus (thrombosis) or an embolus (embolism). Ischemic stroke is the most common and represents 85% of all cases.

What is a hemorrhagic stroke

Hemorrhagic stroke occurs when a cerebral vessel ruptures, causing hemorrhage. This bleeding can happen inside the brain tissue or on the surface between the brain and the meninges. It accounts for 15% of all stroke cases, but it can cause death more often than ischemic stroke.

What are the main risk factors for developing a stroke?

Several factors increase the likelihood of a stroke, be it hemorrhagic or ischemic. The main causal factors of diseases are:

  • Hypertension;

  • Type 2 diabetes;

  • High cholesterol;

  • Obesity;

  • Smoking;

  • Excessive use of alcohol;

  • Advanced age;

  • Sedentary lifestyle;

  • Use of illicit drugs;

  • Family history;

  • Being male.

What causes a hemorrhagic stroke?

A hemorrhagic stroke is mainly caused by uncontrolled high blood pressure and rupture of an aneurysm. However, it can also be caused by other factors, such as:

  • Hemophilia or other blood clotting disorders;

  • Head or neck injuries;

  • Radiation treatment for cancer of the neck or brain;

  • Cardiac arrhythmias;

  • Heart valve diseases;

  • Congenital heart defects;

  • Vasculitis (inflammation of blood vessels), which can be caused by infections from diseases such as syphilis, Lyme disease, vasculitis, and tuberculosis;

  • Cardiac insufficiency;

  • Acute myocardial infarction.

What causes an ischemic stroke?

An ischemic stroke is divided into four subgroups, with different causes:

  • Atherothrombotic Ischemic Stroke: caused by a disease that produces plaque formation in the major blood vessels (atherosclerosis), causing blood vessel occlusion or embolism.

  • Cardioembolic Ischemic Stroke: occurs when the embolus that causes the stroke leaves the heart.

  • Ischemic Stroke of Another Etiology: it is more common in young people and may be related to blood clotting disorders.

  • Cryptogenic Ischemic Stroke: occurs when the cause of the ischemic stroke has not been identified, even after detailed investigation by the medical team.

How to Prevent a Stroke?

Many risk factors contribute to the onset of a stroke and other chronic diseases, such as cancer and diabetes. Some of these factors cannot be modified, such as age, race, genetic makeup, and sex. However, other factors depend only on the person to prevent these diseases.

  • Do not smoke;

  • Do not consume alcohol;

  • Do not use illicit drugs;

  • Eat healthy foods;

  • Maintain an ideal weight;

  • Drink plenty of water;

  • Practice physical activities regularly;

  • Keep blood pressure under control;

  • Keep glucose under control.

Healthy living habits are essential for the prevention of a stroke.

Stroke Diagnosis

The diagnosis of stroke is made using imaging tests, which allow the identification of the affected brain area and stroke type.

Once the patient arrives at the hospital, emergency medical care includes:

  • Check vital signs, such as blood pressure and temperature.

  • Check blood glucose.

  • Lay the person down, unless there is vomiting.

  • Place venous access on the arm that is not paralyzed.

  • Administer oxygen if needed.

  • Determine the time of onset of symptoms through a questionnaire to the patient or companion.


Rehabilitation can be done at Specialized Rehabilitation Centers. The best form of treatment, care, and rehabilitation, which may even include medications, must be prescribed by a doctor, depending on each case.

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