A stroke is a medical emergency, regardless of whether it is a major stroke or a short-lasting TIA. A person suffering a stroke should be taken immediately to a hospital emergency department.
The ability to pinpoint quickly the precise location of a stroke and determine the extent of damage is critically important in treatment decisions. A stroke caused by a blocked artery is treated in an entirely different way than a stroke caused by bleeding within the brain.
The key to survival and recovery is prompt medical treatment.
If a stroke is caused by a blocked artery, medications are now available to reverse damage to the brain and significantly increase the odds of survival. However, these medications are effective only if they are given within a few hours of the time when the first stroke symptoms begin.
Scans of the brain are performed to confirm a diagnosis of stroke and to determine the types of stroke. This is important since the treatment of different types of stroke differs. These tests include:
• Computed Tomography scan (CT scan) is generally the first diagnostic test done after a person suspected of having a stroke arrives in the emergency department. The test uses low-dose x-rays to take pictures of the inside of the brain.
• Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) is an advanced diagnostic tool that uses the principles of magnetism to view the inner body. An MRI of the brain can show small blood vessels that may be blocked or bleeding.
• Transcranial Doppler (TCD) is a new, noninvasive ultrasound procedure that uses a small probe placed against the skull to track the blood flow through the vessels in the brain.
• SPECT imaging uses low doses of a harmless radioactive substance injected into a vein in the arm, and then uses a specialized camera to view the blood flow in the brain.
How is Stroke connected to Cardiovascular Disease?
Atrial fibrillation is a heart disorder in which the heart beats quickly and in an irregular manner. As a result, the heart’s chambers do not completely empty themselves of blood. Blood that remains in these chambers can become stagnant, and clots can form. These clots can then travel in the bloodstream to the brain and cause a stroke.
Individual with atrial fibrillation often need to take anticoagulant drugs (“blood thinners”). These medications help prevent the formation of blood clots.
Atherosclerosis blockage is also called “hardening of the arteries”. Cholesterol plaque and other fatty substances buildup on the thinner walls of the arteries, causing them to narrow. Pieces of plaque from deposits on the inner walls of arteries can break off and travel throughout the body. They can cause a stroke if they block blood flow to the brain.
Atherosclerosis can be especially dangerous if it affects the arteries in the neck, called the carotid arteries because any clots that might break of will not have to travel far before reaching the brain.