Stroke occurs when blood flow to the brain is interrupted. Without a blood supply to deliver oxygen and nutrients, brain cells in the area of the interruption begin to die. It’s estimated that more than 700,000 strokes occur each year in the United States. After the age of 55, a person’s risk of having a stroke more than doubles each decade.
Stroke is the third leading cause of death in the United States, and is is also responsible for more serious, long-term disabilities than any other disease. Stroke damage in the brain ranges from mild to severe. Disabilities after a stroke may include paralysis and problems with thinking, speaking and emotional control.
Types of Stroke
There are two main types of strokes:
- Ischemic stroke, the most common type, is caused by a blood clot that blocks a blood vessel that supplies the brain. When blood flow to a portion of the brain is blocked only for a short time, it is called a transient ischemic attack (TIA), or mini-stroke. The damage to the brain cells from a TIA isn’t permanent, but having a TIA greatly increases a person’s risk of having a full-blown stroke.
- Hemorrhagic stroke (which is less common) happens when a blood vessel in the brain leaks or breaks open and bleeds into the brain.
Symptoms of stroke include sudden onset of one or more of the following listed in this stroke patient education guide:
- Numbness or weakness of the face, arm, or leg, especially on only one side of the body
- Confusion, trouble speaking or understanding speech
- Trouble seeing in one or both eyes
- Trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination
- Severe headache with no known cause
Doctors Who Treat Stroke
As your stroke is diagnosed and treated, you may work with one or more of the following providers:
- Emergency Medicine Physician: A doctor who specializes in caring for patients with acute illnesses or injuries that require immediate medical attention, typically in the emergency department of a hospital. A person having a stroke is typically rushed to the hospital and treated by an emergency medicine physician.
- Neurologist: A doctor who specializes in disorders of the brain and nervous system. Neurologists diagnose and treat patients who have had a stroke and supervise their ongoing treatment.
- Neurosurgeon: A doctor who specializes in surgical treatments of the brain or nervous system. If surgery is required to treat or prevent a stroke, a neurosurgeon would perform the surgery.
- Internist or Family Physician: Doctors who provide general medical care for adults. Adults who have had a stroke may also receive follow-up care and monitoring by an internist or family physician.