What Is a Stroke? (video)

How to reduce your risk of stroke

How to reduce your risk of stroke

Mary Kalafut, MD, a neurologist at Scripps Clinic who specializes in stroke and vascular neurology, explains how strokes happen, who is most at risk, as well as preventative medications and innovative medical treatment options available.

Video transcript

What is a stroke?

A stroke is a lack of blood flow to the brain. This results in injury to nerve cells so that they can't perform their normal function.

When someone has a stroke it really depends on how large the stroke is and the area of the brain that is affected. So this can be very mild, causing mild weakness or numbness, or it can be quite severe causing significant weakness and inability to communicate.

What are the risk factors for stroke?

Risk factors for stroke include high blood pressure, diabetes, elevated cholesterol and a sedentary lifestyle. We also know that increased alcohol intake can increase your risk of stroke.

What are the treatments for stroke?

There are different treatments for stroke, depending on where in the continuum the patient is suffering. So we have a lot of preventative medications that can be given, including treating hypertension, treating diabetes and treating cholesterol.

But in the throes of the stroke we have other treatments, such as clot-busting medication, something called tPA. Or we also have something called an embolectomy, where a physician will go in with a catheter, which is a tube, and put it into one of the blood vessels that feed the brain and pull out the clot. So that's another type of treatment that can be administered for stroke patients.

How can you reduce your risk of stroke?

In order to reduce the risk of stroke, there are many medications that can be used to treat high blood pressure, cholesterol and diabetes.

Other things that can be done are for patients that have heart problems, such as an irregular heartbeat called atrial fibrillation. We have certain medications and procedures that can be performed to prevent stroke.

Also in younger patients who have holes in their hearts, something called a patent foramen ovale, there are procedures that can be done to prevent strokes in these patients.

How can the cause of a stroke be determined?

Depending on the type of stroke, it will really determine the best type of treatment for each individual patient. Sometimes there can be cholesterol buildup in the blood vessels that feed the brain. Other times there can be little clots that can go from the heart to the brain. Other times there can be a tear in a blood vessel that can cause a little clot to break off and go to the brain.

For patients who have cardiac problems or irregular heartbeats, we have something called the Watchman device that can be placed in the heart to prevent clots from forming. We also have a closure device for patients that have small holes in the heart to prevent clots from forming. And we also have other devices that can be inserted into the blood vessels of the brain to prevent bleeding.

Lightly edited for clarity.

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