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Stroke (cont.)

Symptoms

If you have symptoms of a stroke, call or other emergency services right away. General symptoms of a stroke include:

  • Sudden numbness, tingling, weakness, or loss of movement in your face, arm, or leg, especially on only one side of your body.
  • Sudden vision changes.
  • Sudden trouble speaking.
  • Sudden confusion or trouble understanding simple statements.
  • Sudden problems with walking or balance.
  • A sudden, severe headache that is different from past headaches.

Symptoms can vary depending on whether the stroke is caused by a blood clot (ischemic stroke) or bleeding (hemorrhagic stroke), where the stroke occurs in the brain, and how bad it is.

A stroke usually happens suddenly but may occur over hours. For example, you may have mild weakness at first. Over time, you may not be able to move the arm and leg on one side of your body.

If several smaller strokes occur over time, you may have a more gradual change in walking, balance, thinking, or behavior (multi-infarct dementia).

It is not always easy for people to recognize symptoms of a small stroke. They may mistakenly think the symptoms can be attributed to aging, or the symptoms may be confused with those of other conditions that cause similar symptoms.

What Happens

When you have an ischemic strokeClick here to see an illustration., the oxygen-rich blood supply to part of your brain is reduced. With a hemorrhagic stroke, there is bleeding in the brain.

  • After about 4 minutes without blood and oxygen, brain cells become damaged and may die.
  • The body tries to restore blood and oxygen to the cells by enlarging other blood vessels (arteries) near the area.
  • If blood supply is not restored, permanent brain damage usually occurs.

When brain cells are damaged or die, the body parts controlled by those cells cannot function. The loss of function may be mild or severe and temporary or permanent. This depends on where and how much of the brain is damaged and how fast the blood supply can be returned to the affected cells.

If you have symptoms of a stroke, callor other emergency services right away. Life-threatening complications may occur after a stroke. Early treatment may decrease the amount of permanent damage to brain cells, decreasing the amount of disability.

Stroke is the most common nervous-system–related cause of physical disability. Of people who survive a stroke, half will still have some disability 6 months after the stroke.

Recovery depends on the location and amount of brain damage caused by the stroke, the ability of other healthy areas of the brain to take over functioning for the damaged areas, and rehabilitation. In general, the less damage there is to the brain tissue, the less disability results and the greater the chances of a successful recovery.

You have the greatest chance of regaining your abilities during the first few months after a stroke. Regaining some abilities, such as speech, comes slowly, if at all. About half of all people who have a stroke will have some long-term problems with talking, understanding, and decision-making. They also may have changes in behavior that affect their relationships with family and friends.

Long-term complications of a stroke, such as depression and pneumonia, may develop right away or months to years after a stroke. Some long-term complications may be prevented with proper home treatment and medical follow-up. For more information, see the Home Treatment section of this topic.

What to expect after a stroke

In addition to the more obvious physical problems you have after a stroke, you (or a caregiver) may also notice:

If you have concerns, discuss them with your doctor. Your doctor will provide support and may offer other suggestions for dealing with these issues.

eMedicineHealth Medical Reference from Healthwise

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