Strokes 101: Types, Symptoms, and Treatment

Learn to recognize, respond to, and prevent strokes with our comprehensive guide on symptoms, emergency actions, and lifestyle tips.
Published on
May 7, 2024
Presented by Givers
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Strokes can strike at any time. Without quick intervention, your loved one could have long-term effects like paralysis or speech issues. Family caregivers need to learn stroke symptoms and how to use the FAST method if their loved one suffers a stroke. Quick treatment can save a life.

Symptoms of stroke

Strokes occur when blood flow to the brain gets cut off. Brain cells start to wither without their water supply. The faster you get help, the less damage is done. So, how do you know when to sound the alarm?

What is FAST? 

Minutes matter during a stroke. When your loved one suffers a stroke, you can save their life if you act FAST:

  • Face drooping
  • Arm weakness
  • Speech difficulties
  • Time to call 911

Call emergency services immediately if you recognize any of these standard stroke symptoms. The ambulance can start treatment immediately. Once at the hospital, doctors may try to remove the blood clot or give them medication to lessen brain swelling.  

Other common symptoms of stroke include:

  • Confusion
  • Vsion problems
  • Dizziness
  • Severe headaches
  • Numbness on one side of the body

If you recognize any of these severe symptoms, call 911 immediately. 

Types of stroke

Ischemic stroke

Ischemic strokes result from blood clots. Risk factors for an ischemic stroke include hypertension, high bad cholesterol, diabetes, smoking, and genetics. Symptoms resemble FAST, and emergency room doctors use medical scans at the hospital to diagnose a stroke. 

When your loved one suffers an ischemic stroke, get them to the hospital as soon as possible to give them the best health outcomes. Treatment options include medication to dissolve clots and restore blood flow and surgery in severe cases.

Hemorrhagic stroke

Hemorrhagic strokes are caused when a broken blood vessel bleeds in the patient's brain. The bleeding can harm brain cells. High blood pressure and weak blood vessels increase stroke risk. Symptoms are similar to FAST and include a sudden, severe headache. 

At the hospital, the doctors will use scans to see the bleeding and diagnose the stroke. Surgery may be necessary to stop the bleeding and relieve pressure on the brain. Medications can control blood pressure and prevent more bleeding.

Transient Ischemic Attack (TIA)

A TIA, also called a "mini-stroke," is a temporary blockage of blood flow. Brain cells are stressed but not permanently damaged. Risk factors include a sedentary lifestyle, diabetes, hypertension, and obesity. 

Symptoms include weakness on one side of the body, slurred speech, drooping mouth, and difficulty walking. They might exhibit confusion or have vision problems. However, in this case, the symptoms might disappear within minutes or an hour.  

Even though symptoms disappear, a TIA is a warning sign of a future stroke. Call your care recipient's doctor and have them checked. The doctor may recommend lifestyle changes or medication to control blood pressure or cholesterol. 

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Stroke risk factors

Unfortunately, we can't change our genetics. Several factors can increase your loved one's risk of stroke. Many pre-existing conditions can make your loved one more susceptible to a stroke.  

Age, gender, and family history: Stroke risk increases with age. Men are slightly more at risk than women. A family history of stroke increases your loved one's risk. Review family history with their doctor and discuss other common risk factors. 

Hypertension (high blood pressure) damages blood vessel walls, increasing the risk of clots or bursts. Medication can lower blood pressure to reduce the chances of a stroke.

Atrial Fibrillation: An irregular heartbeat causes blood to clot in the heart. These clots travel to the brain, causing a stroke. If your loved one has a blood clot, hospital personnel may try to remove it through surgery or medication. 

Diagnosis and tests

When a stroke is suspected, rapid and accurate diagnosis is crucial for effective treatment. Here's an overview of the diagnostic tests commonly used to identify and assess strokes:

Imaging tests

  • CT scan (Computed Tomography): This is often the first test performed in an emergency to diagnose a stroke. A CT scan creates detailed brain images and can quickly detect brain bleeding or ischemia (lack of blood flow).
  • MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging): MRI provides even more detailed images of brain tissue and is used to detect changes in brain tissue and damage to brain cells from a stroke. It's beneficial for identifying more minor or more subtle strokes that a CT scan might miss.

Blood tests

While blood tests cannot diagnose a stroke, they are important for ruling out other conditions that could mimic stroke symptoms and determining whether there are any bleeding disorders or infections. Blood tests can also provide information on blood sugar levels and the presence of key risk factors such as cholesterol and diabetes.

Carotid ultrasound

This test uses sound waves to create detailed images of the inside of the carotid arteries in your neck. It helps identify narrowing or clotting in these arteries, which can be a risk factor for ischemic strokes.

Cerebral angiogram

In this procedure, a dye is injected into the blood vessels of the brain to make them visible under X-ray imaging. This test provides a detailed view of arteries in the brain and neck, helping to pinpoint blockages or malformations that could lead to strokes.

Echocardiogram

This test detects sources of clots in the heart that could travel to the brain and cause strokes. An echocardiogram uses ultrasound waves to produce images of the heart's chambers and valves, showing how well the heart is functioning and revealing any abnormalities.

Heart monitoring

For detecting strokes caused by atrial fibrillation and other heart rhythm abnormalities, continuous heart monitoring might be conducted. This can be done in the hospital with telemetry or over a longer period with a portable device worn under your clothes.

Each of these tests plays a critical role in diagnosing the type of stroke and determining the most appropriate treatment approach. Quick access to these diagnostic tools is vital, as the speed of diagnosis and the initiation of treatment significantly affect the outcome and recovery of stroke patients.

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Stroke treatments

When your loved one is en route to the hospital after a stroke, it helps to know what to expect. Hospitals are equipped to fight strokes. The specific treatment depends on the type of stroke. For ischemic strokes caused by clots, doctors might use clot-busting medications to dissolve the blockage and restore blood flow.

Surgery

A thin tube is sometimes inserted through an artery to grab and remove the clot. Hemorrhagic strokes caused by bleeding require different tactics. Surgeons might need to operate to stop the bleeding and relieve pressure on the brain.

Medication and additional care

Medications are also used to control blood pressure and prevent further bleeding. Both types of strokes require supportive care like fluids, oxygen, and monitoring of brain activity to prevent complications.

Rehabilitation 

After the initial treatment, therapists help patients regain strength, improve communication, and relearn daily activities. The sooner your loved one gets to the hospital, the more available treatment options, and the better the chance for a full recovery.

Preventing strokes

Prevention is key in the fight against strokes. Although not all strokes can be prevented, there are significant steps that caregivers and their loved ones can take to reduce their risk. Here are some effective prevention strategies:

Lifestyle changes

Promote a healthy lifestyle by encouraging regular exercise, a balanced diet, and maintaining a healthy weight. Reducing intake of salt and fats, particularly trans fats, can significantly lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels, which are major risk factors for strokes.

Manage medical conditions

Regular medical check-ups are essential. Conditions like hypertension, high cholesterol, diabetes, and atrial fibrillation should be managed effectively with medications and lifestyle adjustments as prescribed by a healthcare professional.

Stop smoking

Smoking accelerates clot formation by thickening your blood and increasing plaque buildup in your arteries. Help your loved one quit smoking to reduce their risk of stroke dramatically.

Limit alcohol consumption

Excessive alcohol consumption can lead to multiple health problems, including increasing the risk of stroke. Limiting alcohol to moderate levels or avoiding it altogether can be beneficial.

Regular check-ups

Regular check-ups can help monitor health conditions and detect potential problems early, especially for those with risk factors like hypertension or diabetes. This includes monitoring blood pressure and cholesterol levels, managing diabetes effectively, and assessing for any heart conditions.

Know your numbers

Understanding and controlling the critical health numbers such as blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar, and body mass index (BMI) can go a long way in stroke prevention. Keep track of these numbers regularly and consult with a healthcare provider to maintain them within the recommended range.

Educate on emergency response

Ensure that all family members and caregivers recognize the signs of a stroke. Quick action can not only save lives but also potentially minimize long-term disabilities. Familiarize them with the FAST acronym and other symptoms such as sudden numbness or confusion.

Preventive measures can significantly reduce the risk of stroke. By adjusting lifestyle factors and managing medical conditions proactively, caregivers can provide a supportive environment that promotes health and wellness, reducing the risk of stroke and enhancing the overall quality of life for their loved ones.

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