The human brain can arguably be considered to be the most sophisticated piece of machinery within the human body. It not only coordinates physical movement, it also takes an active role in human emotion. With physiological and psychological responsibilities, any level of damage sustained by the brain can result in permanently debilitating effects. Injury often comes in the form of a stroke. A stroke halts the delivery of blood flow to cerebral tissues. Receiving a continuous flow of blood is vital to the human brain because it receives its supply of oxygen through the circulatory system. Aside from oxygen, it requires a constant supply of sugars through which chemical reactions are powered.

A stroke can come in three different forms. Ischemic strokes are characterized by the complete occlusion of an artery that supplies blood to a region of the brain. This occlusion can be due to build up that has accumulated on the wall of an artery or by a blood clot that has formed elsewhere and has traveled up to the brain through the circulatory system. The second class of stroke is more prevalent in stroke cases recorded amongst Americans. These cases involve an artery located in the brain that has become weakened overtime. Arterial wall damage often is the result of untreated hypertension. When arterial walls sustain constant force from high blood pressure, fractures can form and leak blood out into the brain tissues. Aneurysms that bulge out from arteries may also form when walls develop weak spots. These aneurysms may suddenly burst and deprive distal brain regions from getting the oxygen they need. Less severe, but just as important, is transient ischemic attack or 'mini stroke'. Like an ischemic stroke that blocks an artery with a foreign object, a mini stroke works through the same mechanism with one exception. Mini strokes are short lived because obstruction only lasts minutes before blood flow is restored. Permanent damage is not a factor with mini strokes but this does not mean that they should be dismissed. They are often signs that an ischemic stroke may be lurking.

Individuals that are most at risk are those that have one or several of the following risk factors:

  • Hypertension- Constant high blood pressure can damage and thin arterial wall linings.
  • Smoking- Cigarettes harden arterial walls which can lead to breaks and cracks of artery walls.

Hyperlipidemia- Increased levels of cholesterol in the blood stream lead to plaque build up in arterial walls. If this build up breaks off, it can travel in the blood stream until it comes to a narrowed artery and completely blocks all flow.

These are just a few of the risk factors that can lead to stroke. More information on these and others can be found on the American Heart Association website.

While not everyone will show the same symptoms when they are having a stroke, the different types of symptoms are easily identifiable. Signs and symptoms may include body and facial paralysis on one side of the body. When the brain sustains an ischemic injury, the part of the brain that has been affected can no longer properly regulate function of that part of the body for which it is responsible. Simple bodily movements like walking are greatly affected. A person having a stroke can quickly lose the ability to stay on their feet. Since motor and verbal capabilities are functions of the brain, speech skills can also be compromised during a stroke. Slurred speech and inability to properly express in words what is happening at the moment is also a typical sign of stroke.

Immediate medical treatment is key to the prognosis of stroke victims. The longer the affected region of the brain goes without oxygen and nutrients, the less likelihood that that region will retain proper function. Since brain cells begin to die moments after a stroke, it is imperative that immediate action be taken and that person be treated. Urgent medical care can be the defining factor between life and death.

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