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What is a Stroke?

A stroke is condition where the blood flow to the brain is restricted. When a stroke occurs, the patient's brain does not receive adequate blood supply. Blood carries oxygen to the brain, and if the brain does not receive enough oxygen, portions of the brain will be damaged, causing paralysis, vision or language problems and possibly death.

Strokes can be caused by a blood clot, which blocks an artery carrying blood to the brain. This is called an ischemic stroke. Sometimes an artery may rupture, causing bleeding in the brain. This is called a hemorrhagic stroke.

In both types, the oxygenated blood cannot get to the brain, causing temporary or permanent brain damage depending on the extent of interrupted blood flow. During an ischemic stroke, the blood flow is blocked by a clot or narrowing of the blood vessel. Eighty percent of all strokes are ischemic. Some people may experience a transient ischemic attack (TIA), which is brief interruption of blood flow in which the symptoms go away in a short time. A hemorrhagic stroke is when a blood vessel ruptures or breaks and causes bleeding in or around the brain.

The symptoms of stroke can vary depending on what part of the brain lacks oxygen. The symptoms can range from mild and reversible to devastating and permanent. Fortunately, the symptoms are usually sudden and noticeable. Unfortunately, many people do not realize that the onset of stroke symptoms is considered a medical emergency.

Symptoms of stroke:

The key to recognizing stroke symptoms is that they occur suddenly. The National Stroke Association’s campaign to increase stroke symptom awareness used the FAST acronym to teach what symptoms and what action to take if you or someone you know is suspecting a stroke.

F – Face: Ask the person to smile; does one side of his or her face droop?

A – Arms: Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?

S – Speech: Ask the person to repeat a simple sentence. Are the words slurred? Can he or she repeat the sentence correctly?

T – Time: If the person shows any symptoms, time is important. Call 9-1-1 or get to the hospital fast. Brain cells are dying.

Stroke is preventable

The good news is that stroke can be prevented and most risk factors are controllable. The risk factors are similar to heart disease. If a person has heart disease, it’s likely he or she will have artery disease in the brain, too. Talk to your doctor or primary healthcare provider, and check blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and fasting blood sugars regularly. Exercise 30 minutes a day most days of the week, and only drink alcohol at a light to moderate level.

Stroke treatment

In 1996, tPA, a clot busting drug, was approved by the FDA and continues to be the only drug approved for the treatment of a new stroke. Only one to three percent of people receive tPA for their stroke. People don’t recognize they are having a stroke and don’t seek treatment quickly. tPA can only be given in the first 3 hours of a stroke, but even if the person does not receive tPA, there are other treatments available to prevent further damage to the brain and improve recovery.


May is National Stroke Awareness Month

May 20, 2008
By Polly Troutman, RN, Stroke Care Coordinator
St. Patrick Hospital and Health Sciences Center


“You’ve had a stroke.” This is a phrase that brings forth one of our worst fears. According to the American Stroke Association, about 780,000 Americans each year suffer a new or recurrent stroke. That means, on average, a stroke occurs every 40 seconds.


Many people may not realize is that stroke is the leading cause of disability in Montana and the United States and the 3rd leading cause of death in the United States after heart disease and cancer. This puts stroke, as a cause of death, above breast cancer, diabetes and infectious disease. Even scarier is that the World Health Organization is reporting stroke as the second leading cause of death in the world, and is projecting that over the coming decades, stroke will rise to the number one position. 

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