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What is a stroke?

A stroke is a medical condition where a portion of the brain is deprived of oxygen and the patient develops partial or full paralysis of one side of the body, and/or blindness in one eye, and/or slurred speech, or even becomes confused, comatose or even dies, depending on the severity of the stroke.

What causes oxygen deprivation to the brain?

The brain could be deprived of oxygen when the artery supplying blood to a particular area of the brain is blocked by a clot (embolus) that has traveled from the heart or from the neck (carotid) artery, or blocked by hardening of the artery in the neck or in the brain, or when an artery in the brain ruptures and causes bleeding in the brain. Any condition that cuts the blood (oxygen) supply to the brain would cause a stroke.

What is temporary stroke?

Temporary stroke, medically called Transient Ischemic Attacks (TIA), is a situation where a small clot travels to the brain and blocks the blood supply to a portion of the brain, and somehow the small clot dissolves, allowing the circulation to the brain to resume. Spasm of an artery supplying the brain, that later relaxes, could also cause this temporary TIA.

Could blindness result from a stroke?

Yes, blindness could be a part of a stroke, or it could also be a part of TIA. This type of blindness is what is medically termed "Amaurosis Fugax." The blindness happens to the same side where the blood clot is. If the blockage is in the right side of the neck (carotid) artery, the blindness occurs in the right eye.

How about the muscle paralysis?

The paralysis, or muscle weakness, happens to the opposite of the blocked (carotid) artery. If the right carotid artery is the one blocked, the paralysis affects the opposite side (the left) of the face, arm, body and leg.

What happens after a stroke?

Depending on the severity and extent of arterial blockage, the patient could have symptoms ranging from mild slurring of speech to total inability to talk (aphasia), with or without paralysis, which could also range from mild (paresis) to severe paralysis (absence of muscle strength). The more severe case could lead to a coma, or even death. Those who survive are candidates for various levels of physical therapy, speech therapy, or rehabilitation or even vocational therapy, depending on the degree and nature of the stroke.

Does high blood pressure lead to a stroke?

Not all people with high blood pressure develop a stroke. Those with uncontrolled or untreated high blood pressure have a high probability of developing a stroke. They are more prone to have a stroke, especially from a ruptured artery because of the tremendous high pressure inside the artery.

How does one prevent a stroke?

Anybody older than 30 years old must have a complete medical checkup by his/her physician. Patients with stroke or heart attack are getting younger and younger. The physician can analyze the risk factors affecting his patient and prescribe a good preventive regimen, or start managing whatever illness is found. The earlier the diagnosis of a condition is made, the better the chances of treating it successfully, and avoiding a more complicated course.

What are the other preventive measures?

Living a good and healthy lifestyle is the key. This includes a healthy diet of fish, vegetables, fruits, fiber cereals, multivitamins; staying away from eggs and red meats, like pork and beef; regular physical exercises, even simple brisk walking 4 times a week or more; no smoking; knowing how to relax and enjoy life; having a regular medical check-up about once a year.

Is ballroom dancing a good form of exercise?

For cardiovascular fitness, ballroom dancing is the best form of exercise. This activity eases the mind, gives pleasure to the soul, and exercises all the muscles of the body. The dancer does not even consider this to be "work" or "exercise," hence he/she enjoys it better than any other aerobic exercises. Time flies by and before you know it, you have lost a lot of calories and have exercised your body and heart to the a pleasurable way.

What are the diagnostic tests?

There are various tests available for the early detection of conditions that could lead to a stroke. The simplest is a good medical checkup by your physician, who will listen for a special abnormal sound (bruit) in your neck (carotid) arteries. The presence of a bruit (swishing sound) indicates severe obstruction in the artery. If this is found, a Doppler Ultrasound of the carotid artery is ordered to find out if a blockage is present and how severe. If this shows definite blockage that is very severe (70% or higher), surgery could be done to remove the blockage. If the Doppler test is not clear, a Carotid Arteriogram (a dye test) is done for a more definitive diagnosis. This dye test will tell for sure if the blockage is severe, how severe it is, and whether surgery is needed.

How safe is the surgery for Carotid Artery blockage?

Surgery for the blocked carotid artery is very safe. The risk is less than 1%. Since blockage of the carotid (neck) arteries is one of the commonest causes of stroke, this procedure (Carotid Endarterectomy) is a common routine procedure, especially in the United States and Europe. The surgery itself takes about an hour or so, and the patient usually goes home either the following day or two days after surgery.

How do I find out if I have a blockage in my Carotid Artery?

The initial step is to see your physician, who will examine you. If there is a bruit (swishing sound) in your Carotid Artery in the neck, he will refer you to a cardiovascular specialist, who will perform the necessary tests to find out for sure if you indeed have a blockage in your Carotid Artery or not. If you yourself hear a "swishing" sound in your neck, consult a physician right away. Prevention is the best form of treatment.

©2003Raoul R. Diez, M.A.O.D.